Five ways small businesses can be more efficient in 2021


According to Judo Bank, around 160,000 of Australia’s two million small businesses could go under as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are steps SMEs can consider taking to position themselves favourably against their competitors when looking ahead to surviving and thriving in 2021.

The pandemic has forced businesses to rethink and consider where effective change can be introduced. These considerations cannot only improve our prospects now but ensure we are better placed for the future. 

Here are five ways to prepare your business now and start 2021 with efficiency and confidence.

1. Know your problem 

Too often we feel the pressure to make fast decisions with the focus solely on finding a solution. If you don’t know what the problem is, how do you know what to fix or how much is it going to cost if you get it wrong?

Taking the time to be educated on business problems and potential pitfalls will empower you as a leader to make the right decisions for your team and business from the start.

2. Include your team

There is no-one in your organisation better equipped to identify where problems may lay and there is no benefit in changing things without having buy-in from those that will be most impacted. 

Collaborating with your team will not only provide you with unrivalled insights, but it will also build a positive team culture of inclusion, unity and respect. It provides a space for your team to feel like they are heard and are personally contributing to a greater goal. 

3. Review your business processes

Staying open to insights and understanding the ‘current state’ of your business is crucial to the success of any organisation. Business processes always come with two measures: “How much time does this process take to complete?” and “How much does that time cost?”

When reviewing your business processes, provide yourself with the opportunity to consider:

  • Is the right team member responsible for this process?
  • Could this process be automated?
  • Am I utilising the right tools or technology to complete this action?
  • Is this process hindering or helping my team?
  • Is it financially viable to keep this process in its current state?
4. Understand your market

The potential need for business change and improvement doesn’t always only come from within. Your client and potential clients should have a valid say too and understand what their pains and they’ll appreciate their insight being valued. 

You must also look at:

  • how our clients’ needs have evolved
  • do their pains exist at all anymore
  • is there a new type of client/market that we should be focusing on
  • whether your product/service is still relevant.
5. Embrace your business data 

Data can come in many forms and from a range of sources. System generated data from software, business programs (eg Xero) and apps provide great insight, as does communicating with team members and clients through surveys.

Most of the time data answers to your questions are already right in front of you. Don’t be in a rush to get to the point of implementing a solution without first being educated on where your attention is truly needed.

Look at how you can make improvements and understand how to effectively use the findings and lessons to build a plan to tackle 2021 with a positive head start.

Zoe Savic, Chief Operating Officer, Cogniom



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2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid, A Stylish, Efficient In-Betweener


As 2020 draws to a close, crossovers of various flavors remain the most popular form factor in the American automotive market so it’s important for manufacturers to keep those products fresh. That’s exactly what Kia is doing and by the end of 2021 it should have at least five models that are less than two years old including the just launched fourth-generation Sorento. Along with a fresh design, like many other new utilities, the Sorento is now also offered with an optional hybrid powertrain for the first time.

The Sorento shares its basic platform with the new K5 midsize sedan that launched earlier in the year as the replacement for the Optima. Like the K5, the Sorento features the brand’s new design language including a fresh take on the “tiger nose” grille treatment. There is no longer a body colored gap between the LED headlamps and the grille area. The grill itself is also more concave than before. This gives the fascia a somewhat more sporting and aggressive stance. 

For the most part the exterior is clean as the past two generations of Sorento have been, but the designers have added a couple of questionable flourishes. Where many other vehicles feature a faux vent in the area between the front fender and doors, the Sorento has a piece of chrome trim that clearly isn’t trying to be anything functional, it just sits there with no real purpose. Similarly, behind the rear doors is a sort of reverse shark-fin that extends about halfway up the C-pillar from the chrome trim surrounding the side glass. While these bits clearly distinguish the Sorento from the dozens of other crossovers out there, deleting either or both probably wouldn’t do any harm. Aside from that the rest of the body is well proportioned and has a sporting stance. 

Inside the Sorento has an attractive new look with the eight-inch touchscreen central display standing on top of the dashboard but its surround integrated and flowing directly into the instrument cluster. This approach keeps the display up closer to the driver’s line of sight while driving without the look of a tablet tacked onto the dash. 

Like many 2021 models, the Sorento now supports wireless connectivity for both Apple

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Carplay and Android Auto in addition to the embedded functionality of the infotainment. Connecting my Google Pixel 5 was straightforward, after pairing with Bluetooth, the phone prompted me to activate Android Auto as it would usually do when connected via USB. Once I accepted, I could put the phone down on the wireless charging mat in the bin at the bottom of the center stack and it reconnected each time I got in the car. There are also 8 USB charging ports including one on the inner edge of each of the front seats for second row passengers to access. 

The Sorento is unique in the Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) lineup (including Kia, Hyundai and Genesis) in being very much a midsize utility vehicle but with three-row seating capability. It’s more than four-inches shorter than the K5 and just half an inch longer than the Santa Fe. However, in the Hyundai lineup you have to step up to the larger Palisade to get three rows. Kia explains that the larger Telluride is only available in North America and the Middle East while the Sorento is a global product. Since there is a demand globally for midsize three row vehicles, the Sorento gets that capability. 

The second-row is roomy enough for adults and as long as they are willing to use less than maximum legroom two adults can get in the third row. However, that last row is basically on the floor and my five-foot eleven-inch frame was in a distinctly knees up position although my head wasn’t touching the headliner. The third row offers flexibility for carrying an extra pair of pre-teens or shorter adults, but you won’t want to use it for long road trips. With the third seats up, there is a mere 12.5 cubic feet of very shallow cargo space in the back. With those seats folded flat, there is 38.5 cubic feet with the second row all the way back and 45 with those seats pushed forward. 

Perhaps the most notable new feature of the 2021 Sorento is the availability of a hybrid drive option. The gas-powered models feature a pair of 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines with or without a turbocharger. The hybrid features the latest iteration of the HMG hybrid system that pairs an engine with a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission where the torque convertor is replaced with an electric motor. Previous applications have used naturally aspirated engines of either 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter capacity for the Niro and Optima respectively. 

The Sorento hybrid gets a 1.6-liter turbocharged four paired with a 60-hp electric motor for a total output of 227-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. That slots it neatly between the numbers for the hybrid variants of Toyota’s Rav4 and Highlander while the size also slots right between those. Similarly, the Sorento’s 37 mpg combined fuel economy rating also slips into the same gap with the Rav4 hitting 40 mpg and the larger Highlander at 36 mpg. 

I had 24 hours with the Sorento hybrid during which I drove it through a variety of traffic conditions including urban stop and go, interstate, suburban highway and some twisting country roads. It was a cold day with temperatures hovering right around freezing and some fresh snow coming down but not really sticking to the pavement leaving it cold and damp. The Sorento averaged about 38 mpg which is good considering that hybrids typically see degraded fuel efficiency in cold weather. 

On the road, the Sorento was generally pleasant and refined to drive although not perfect. The ride quality was quite good, thanks in part to the use of 17-inch wheels with 235/65R17 tires that provide some extra compliance. The body was well controlled even over rough pavement, but a surprising amount of road noise was transmitted into the cabin. It wasn’t objectionable, and certainly not out of line for this market segment, but most automakers try to keep noise suppressed in hybrid models to minimize the transition between engine on and off modes. 

Aside from that, the only other issue I noted was some wheel hop when accelerating hard from a dead stop on the cold, wet pavement. Since most drivers of such vehicles aren’t likely to do that, they’ll probably never experience it. It is important to note that the hybrid Sorento is only offered with front-wheel drive for now. Other hybrid crossovers including the Ford Escape, Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V all offer all-wheel-drive. There is a more powerful 261-hp plug-in hybrid version of the Sorento coming in mid-2021 that will have AWD. 

One of the best aspects of HMG hybrids including the Sorento is the overall feel of the powertrain. Since they use a conventional step-ratio transmission rather than a continuously variable setup, they don’t exhibit any of the motor-boating effects that you would expect when accelerating. When coasting on level ground or slightly downhill even at highway speeds, the engine will shut off when there is sufficient charge in the battery and you can cruise around your neighborhood in complete silence and with zero emissions. 

The 2021 Sorento hybrid is offered in S and EX trim levels with lots of standard equipment even in the S. That includes a suite of driver assistance capabilities including forward collision assist with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, blindspot monitoring and more. The EX adds a radar sensor to the front camera for adaptive cruise control and also fuses it with the camera data for the collision and pedestrian detection. The Sorento hybrid S starts at $33,590 while the EX adds $3,000. The EX I tested with the optional Runway Red paint came to a reasonable $38,205 including delivery. For a stylish, roomy 4/5 wagon with decent performance and excellent fuel economy and the option to carry two more passengers when needed, the 2021 Kia Sorento should definitely be on your shopping list.



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Efficient & Ambitious Victoria: Record-Breaking Clean Jobs Package


Efficient & Ambitious Victoria: Record-Breaking Clean Jobs Package

THE CLIMATE COUNCIL welcomes the Victorian Government’s record-breaking clean jobs package announced today, which will see $797 million invested to help Victorians upgrade the efficiency of their homes, ramp up rooftop solar, bring down their power bills and create thousands of jobs for the state.

“The clean jobs package announced by the Victorian Government today is a smart investment which will be critical to improving the health of Victorians, generating thousands of jobs and tackling climate change,” said the Climate Council’s CEO, Amanda McKenzie.

“Energy efficiency upgrades will be made available to those on low-incomes and renters, which will help to protect the health and wellbeing of many Victorian families during the summer and winter months, and save them money on their power bills,” she said.

The Victorian Government will also boost the rooftop solar rebates program, Solar Homes, including rebates for household batteries, which comes just weeks after the state announced its plan to build the largest battery in the south hemisphere.

“It is great to see Victoria, along with other states and territories, continuing to step-up on climate and investing in smart, sensible policies which will protect Australians, protect jobs and protect our economy from future shocks. We hope to see more announcements like these in the full Victorian budget released next week,” said Ms McKenzie.

“Our economic modelling shows that the Victorian government can create thousands of direct jobs over the next three years by investing in energy efficiency, rapidly getting people back to work while also tackling climate change,” she said.

The Climate Council’s Clean Jobs Plan found 20,000 direct jobs can be created in Victoria over the next three years, rapidly getting people back into the workforce, whilst also tackling climate change.

/Public Release.



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Indigenous expert cat tracking ‘very efficient’ in supporting threatened bilby species, research finds


Each week at the edge of the Gibson Desert in the most remote community in Australia, a group of Pintupi Traditional Owners — mostly women — follow fresh tracks by foot through the spinifex grasslands ready to catch and kill a feral cat.

Indigenous cat hunting is something that has been happening for more than a century at Kiwirrkurra, primarily for food.

But it is more than a tradition.

New research has now shown its value as one of the most effective ways of protecting threatened species in the area.

Researchers say Indigenous expert trackers could potentially be drawn upon to conduct targeted cat control.

Published online in the CSIRO’s journal Wildlife Research this month, the paper explored how effective cat hunting by Indigenous tracking experts was in reducing cat impacts on threatened species.

According to ecologist Rachel Paltridge, who was one four authors on the report, the answer is “very efficient”, particularly when looking at the population of the threatened bilby species in the area.

Feral Cat Hunting painting by Lydia Ward(Supplied)

Dr Paltridge said the abundance of cats at locations where cat hunting no longer occurred was 30 per cent higher than at locations where the practice does occur.

This meant less predation of the bilbies.

“About a tenth of the visitation rate that studies elsewhere have found.”

Woman smiling in front of bushland
Rachel Paltridge has studied bilbies for 20 years.(Landline: Nick Hose)

Cats major threat to native animals

According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment feral cats threaten the survival of over 100 native species in Australia.

The pest is a major cause of decline for many land-based endangered animals such as the bilby, bandicoot, bettong and numbat.

Public hearings are currently taking place for a parliamentary inquiry into the problem of feral and domestic cats in Australia.

A Northern Bettong looks to the camera with its paws together as it stands in undergrowth.
Feral cats are a huge threat endangered species including the bilby, bandicoot, bettong (pictured) and numbat.(Supplied: Stephanie Todd)

Over the course of five years 130 cats were caught in the Kiwrrkurra area, increasing in recent years.

The figures may seem like a drop in the ocean compared with the millions of feral cats in Australia, but Dr Paltridge says the area’s targeted and specific approach to hunting, that allows Indigenous trackers to seek out the biggest and most destructive cats, is its biggest benefit.

She said these cats were the most difficult to catch by trapping and baiting methods.

“And we need the method to be cheap and locally available so the program can be ongoing.”

Three woman, two of them Aboriginal, stand in front of a helicopter on country
Rachel Paltridge and rangers Mary Butler and Payu West recently conducted aerial surveys for bilbies across three areas of the Kiwirrkurra IPA.(Supplied)

Passing on knowledge

Cat hunting has been used as a method of conservation by the Kiwirrkurra Rangers for the past six years.

Ranger John West, who is an experienced cat hunter and also an author on the paper, says it is important for them to pass on the skills to younger generations.

“They are looking for where they belong, why they are tracking the cat, getting more ideas from us and learning why it’s really important so one day they can grow up and become a fast tracker.

“Bilbies are important for us to keep protecting.”

The bilby is an endangered desert-dwelling marsupial
The bilby is an endangered desert-dwelling marsupial.(Supplied: Australian Wildlife Conservancy)

For many, it is also an enjoyable pastime.

“Like in the past, we’re learning [to] keep going.

“We love hunting, going out for cat and for anything.

“Yuwa (yes) snake, goannas, kangaroos and turkey; yuwa palya (yes it’s good!).”

The Kiwirrkurra people burn on spinifex grasslands
Burning is a regular part of hunting on Kiwirrkurra country and an important aspect of rangers’ work.(Supplied)

Dr Paltridge said the effectiveness of the cat hunting showed Indigenous expert trackers could be drawn on to conduct strategic cat control in certain landscapes, in the same way that shooters were used in other locations around the country.

“If there was a project somewhere with a problem cat around an endangered species colony then these expert hunters could be called in as one of the techniques used.”

The frequency of feral cats in modern Australia may prove a challenge, however.

The Pintupi Traditional Owners are one of what is believed to be just two Aboriginal groups in Australia that continue to cat hunt on a regular basis.

“But there’s still a lot of good trackers, they may not have actually followed a cat but they’re still good at finding the track,” Dr Paltridge said.

Research is now being done on the impact of traditional fire management on the bilby population.

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Online dispute resolution could help make justice delivery efficient, affordable, and accessible


The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably extended to justice delivery. Not only has the response merited a change in how Courts are hearing matters, but also a steep upward adjustment for expected matters in terms of numbers requiring dispute resolution. The resultant situation from the pandemic has required a swift and long term relook at solutions that can help increase dispute avoidance, and conflict resolution outside of the Courts, but with their support. Invariably, technology will be able to bring in efficiency, affordability, and scale to what is an urgent need for sustainable and ongoing access to justice. This is why Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) has the potential to be a transformative and disruptive mechanism for resolving disputes.

ODR, as a likely enabler of enhanced Ease of Doing Business and Ease of Living, could potentially help solve small and medium value disputes before they enter formal court processes. ODR essentially takes the leading global practices from Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), and synergizes them with the latest technology. E-commerce disputes have been tackled through ODR for several years now, with eBay having resolved many million matters through this process at its Resolution Center. Others too have followed suit with success. The European Online Dispute Resolution platform was provided by the European Commission to make online transactions, namely shopping, safer and fairer. In fact, the European Union has adopted a regulation which mandates all merchants in EU countries to notify consumers about the availability of ODR.

The pandemic has forced a shift towards solutions that minimize contact and can be activated through technology, including for resolution of disputes. The crucial role of technology has been enhanced, especially in allowing remote contactless support to daily work roles, flagging its importance to a flat and affordable form of access to justice. Progressive and disruptive changes in justice delivery are critical components and they can alter the course of access to justice in an unprecedented way. Each arm of the Indian system is working towards a solution-driven future and that is where the change will be visible.

One of the most encouraging developments recently is just how progressive and in fact innovative the Supreme Court has been in adopting technology. Chief Justice SA Bobde has shared his openness to consider Artificial Intelligence for non-decision making applications. Justice DY Chandrachud is leading the e-courts initiative, and critical changes are already noticeable. The introducing of e-filing from anywhere in India making it available 24/7 is revolutionary for India. Indian courts today are quickly adopting leading practices, in a sustainable and forward thinking manner. Just a month back, for the first time in history, all three judges on a Supreme Court bench used laptops to go through cases in a paperless hearing, through video conferencing. In Justice Chandrachud’s words a couple of months back, the role of technology because of the pandemic has led to a situation where “the question today is not whether we should adopt technology but how well do we adopt technology.”

At a recent closed door meeting on ODR hosted by NITI Aayog, Justice Chandrachud mentioned how the relevant question today is- how well can we adopt technology to enhance access to justice and strengthen rule of law? He went on to state that the use of technology should be to promote a sense of inclusive justice, justice for which the system is meant to deliver a service. Seen from his perspective, ODR ought to have a multi-pronged, multi sectoral initiative that focuses on dispute resolution for matters that reach the courts through open, efficient, transparent process; dispute containment, where only those disputes that require judicial resolution should reach the courts; and critically, dispute avoidance, where ODR could facilitate and ensure that a problem does not reach the stage of a dispute.

The pandemic and the responses necessitated by it, have led to adjustments across the dispute resolution ecosystem. Several institutional arbitration centers across the world, including the ICC, the International Center for Dispute Resolution, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and others have recently issued guidance to facilitate remote participation in hearings through videoconferencing.

The Seoul Protocol on Video Conferencing in International Arbitration released guidelines in March on how best to utilize video conferencing for remote hearings. Equally important is the Protocol on Cybersecurity in International Arbitration for reasonable information security measures that the parties and arbitrators can take when using ODR. These guidelines have been developed by a working group involving the International Commercial Court of Arbitration in collaboration with the New York City Bar Association and the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution.

There could be a spate of new technologies deployed in the near future that would require forward thinking dispute resolution such as ODR makes provisions for. One such example could be blockchain driven arbitration processes for smart contracts. Smart contracts drafted in computer code use technology to automate enforceability through transfer of rights and obligations. Blockchain arbitration could administer resolution basis such smart contracts.

There have been several pivotal initiatives through the eCourts project and related technology augmented moves whose impact will percolate both vertically and laterally. ODR, in addition to all the work that is already being done at several levels in the Courts, or through the widespread efforts of the Government, is an ideal fit for these times. Building trust, confidence and efficiency is crucial for reviving the economy – and we need to explore new systems to contain and resolve these disputes in an expedient and collaborative manner. Through a combination of several factors, we are on the cusp of transformative changes. Technology will play a crucial role in both equity and affordability. Combining technology and data with negotiation, mediation and arbitration could potentially create many innovative new approaches to resolve disputes well before they come to court. ODR is a solution whose success will depend to a large extent on multi-pronged, diverse stakeholder involvement. The commitment to collaboratively build this framework should therefore be unerring.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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