Online black markets can pose a threat to the burgeoning digital economy.
The pandemic gave a welcome boost to digital transformation, but it also generated an epidemic of cyber-crime, with ransomware attacks driving its staggering growth.
The true cost of these attacks, where access to company data is blocked and only returned on the payment of a ransom, is hard to assess thanks to victims often opting for paying the ransom secretly to fend off reputational damage. Recent estimates for 2020, however, have put a $170 billion (£120 billion) price tag on ransomware attacks globally.
What needs to be factored in too is the negative effect the news of recurring large-scale cyber-attacks have on the fastening pace of digitalisation. Businesses that were under pressure to digitise in a world where physical contact is kept to a minimum are likely to slow down or scrap digital projects once they have been scarred by a cyber-attack.
Similarly, clients, both private and corporate, may become warier of digital services and solutions again, especially when hearing news of cyber-security companies, the guardians of the digital space, falling themselves victim to attacks.
The dark web: the backbone of illicit online activity
Illicit marketplaces on the dark web offering anonymity provide the key infrastructure for hackers and those hiring them.
The technology behind the dark web was originally conceived by the US Naval Research Lab as a platform for the anonymous and untraceable communication of US intelligence. It was opened to the public a couple of years later, the idea being that this would generate “noise” that would draw attention away from secret government communications.
Although there exist other browsers as well, the Dark Web is closely associated with – but not identical to – the most popular one, Tor (The Onion Router), the tool that makes it accessible for practically anyone.
Apart from the nature of the products sold on them, these black markets in several respects mirror the operation of the marketplaces that law-abiding, less privacy-conscious citizens roam on the everyday internet, or “surface net”. They offer discounts, bundles and 24-hour support. A robust feedback system ensures that products, illegal though they may be, are of the best quality.
The Dark Web also has its own digital payment system, with Bitcoin at its centre, although Monero, a more privacy-focused cryptocurrency, is regarded as a serious rival.
Ironically, though, the Tor network, itself a distributed network operated by voluntary computer nodes, seems to be resistant to the adoption of blockchain or smart contracts. It still relies on the escrow system bitcoin was designed to replace, where digital wallets are controlled by administrators and funds are released on condition that the buyer has received the type and quality of product they were promised. If the product traded fails to meet the buyer’s expectations, the ringfenced funds can be retrieved from the escrow account.
But the real game-changer that enabled the spike of ransomware attacks during lockdown was probably the adoption of the as-a-service model by the dark web. The rise of ransomware-as-service meant that not only a select few but anyone vengeful or greedy enough could buy turnkey solutions and infect and breach data systems, as well as exfiltrate sensitive information to their heart’s content.
Ransoms are typically collected in bitcoin, and as crypto-laundering – euphemistically also known as “mixing services” – is rife on the dark web, marked coins deriving from illegal activities can be easily exchanged for unmarked ones.
The existence of these mixes is a blow to both anti-money-laundering (AML) regulations and legitimate crypto communities. Indeed, the efficacy of the present AML framework is already in question given that only an estimated 0.15 to 0.22 per cent of criminal funds are seized as a result.
Cash has obviously a much bigger role to play in AML’s inefficiency than crypto-mixing. However, trying to find ways of intercepting mixing services may be a better approach to fighting this new type of money laundering than burdening financial institutions with yet more know-your-customer regulations with regards to cryptocurrencies.
Can the dark web be seen as a force for good?
There have always been attempts to contain the more heinous aspects of the dark web. Silk Road, the first modern dark marketplace, was operational for two years before it was shut down and its founder arrested by the FBI in 2013. In 2018 Europol set up its dark web team, which, in its latest major, internationally co-ordinated operation in January, took DarkMarket, the world’s then-largest dark web marketplace, offline.
But studies tracing the dynamics of the dark web show that fighting these markets is just another example of playing Whack-a-Mole. Research suggests that on the first week after a closure, one marketplace absorbs about 66 per cent of all users migrating from the site, while new marketplaces will spring up like weeds. These cycles of busts and resurgences has meant that at any given time there are around 40 dark markets in operation, despite efforts to curb them.
But what makes closing down the Dark Web in its entirety unviable is that it isn’t just used for nefarious, anonymouse transactions. It’s also regarded by human rights advocates as the safest way to circumvent censorship in despotic countries and share documents with whistleblowers. But although the Arab Spring made a forceful case for its use in this way, since then some anti-liberal regimes have found ways of either blocking Tor or using it for their own purposes.
Moreover, the argument that dissidents need the dark web to fight their oppressors is somewhat discredited by the study on the potential harm wreaked by the Tor anonymity network referenced earlier. Its findings suggest that Tor is significantly more likely to be used in illicit ways on the dark web in more democratic countries, whereas users in more repressive regimes tend to be far more likely to use it to access legitimate surface-web content anonymously.
The new equation
Before the explosion of ransomware and other types of cyber-attack, the costs and benefits of the dark web as a platform for criminal activity on the one hand and as a privacy protection tool for dissidents and whistle blowers on the other, seemed to strike a fine balance.
But now, as a small business in the UK is successfully hacked every 19 seconds and health services and schools are disrupted by cyber-attacks, this balance has ceased to exist. Finding ways to deal with this space where hackers are recruited, data breaches are orchestrated and outsourced, stolen data is exposed and ransoms are demanded and paid needs to rise to the top of regulators’ and law enforcers’ priority lists.
Although Tor is one of the most effective anonymity tools, it is already almost 30 years old. Its association with the dark net, which has the potential to undermine the digital economy and halt the progress of digital transformation, can’t be maintained in the long run. At some point it will need to be either removed entirely, or be replaced by other, more advanced solutions with better credentials.
Empowering banks and financial institutions to go beyond banking
Digital transformation is revolutionising the way we live and work, from how we order food to the ways in which we conduct business and pay for products and services. There are few aspects of our lives yet to be impacted.
For banks and financial institutions, these innovations present huge opportunities to improve services offered to customers, and room to become more integrated into their everyday lives. Banks are no longer just places to keep your money or somewhere to stow your monthly salary. Now, more than ever, they are seen as fundamental cogs in the workings of our day-to-day lives, providing more than just a means to pay for products, but also a way to financially communicate with the rest of the world. The role of the traditional bank is changing, and financial service providers can’t afford to miss out on these budding opportunities.
In the small business sector, digital technologies are helping banks understand their customers’ needs and desires more precisely, allowing them to offer tailored advice, financial aid, coaching and practical help when it is needed, becoming their clients’ go-to for all things financial and more. Digital technologies have the potential to create innovative, stronger relationships with both new and existing SME customers, while being able to increase wallet-share for themselves and build financial resilience for their customers.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only served to accelerate this trend. Remote working and lockdown restrictions have provided the momentum for small businesses to operate in new ways that were previously resisted. Businesses and consumers are now more comfortable with transacting online, and many are unlikely to return to the more traditional ways of operating. But, despite this, many SMEs are still unaware of the opportunities that exist to better serve their customers and grow their online activities when it comes to researching and rolling out digital capabilities.
Banks and financial organisations are well placed to help their small business customers take advantage of these openings. “It’s an opportunity to talk to customers about how to grow their business, generate more revenue and create financial resilience,” says Rachel Schapiro, SME Success Navigator at vcita. “It’s a chance to be more than just a bank.”
For SMEs, the ability to accept payments on the go – at a customer’s house or work premises – or to set up recurring transactions for more regular work is one obvious way in which digital technologies can have a positive impact on their bottom line. This can significantly improve cash flow, making it possible to get paid for services on completion of a job rather than having to wait several weeks for invoices to be settled. For some, access to such liquidity could be the difference between surviving or going out of business altogether in the current climate.
But this is only one way in which digital innovation can help small businesses survive and thrive. An effective digital platform can help them plan their daily business activities, stay on top of their financial situation, communicate with customers and keep track of future jobs. Relying on spreadsheets, paper diaries and sticky notes plastered on monitors should be a thing of the past.
vcita’s workday app is one way in which small businesses can do this. It provides a one-stop shop for those looking to run their enterprises digitally, and it can all be fully integrated into the bank or financial organisation’s platform. On the payments side, it allows SMEs to collect outstanding monies through various gateways, via their customers’ mobile phones, ensuring they can get paid on time and in full.
It also enables small businesses to communicate directly with customers, including an email marketing tool with market-specific templates. Their own customers can access an online scheduling system to book appointment slots directly with the business, and there’s even a business page in the app which can act as an information source for customers.
The app allows banks and financial service providers to find out more about the history of their customers and understand their income trends and opportunities in more detail. This means they can make better decisions about their own risk, and offer small businesses the support they need at the right time.
Being able to help small businesses in this way places the bank or financial enterprise firmly at the heart of the customer relationship. “It means that instead of just having a chat once a month or visiting a website once every couple of weeks, customers are using an app that is associated with the bank, and which carries the bank’s logo, on a daily basis,” explains Mrs Schapiro. “You’re really becoming very much more involved in your customers’ day-to-day activities.”
Bringing together technology providers, financial institutions and small businesses in this way can help create a stronger ecosystem that will help enterprises flourish and form a vital part of the post-Covid-19 recovery, as well as meeting the changing needs of customers around cashless payment and online interactions. “So many small businesses say they’re not tech-savvy or worry that customers won’t be comfortable with online scheduling,” says Schapiro. “But Covid-19 has changed all of that. It’s a great opportunity to be a part of their journey.”
With over 1.4 million users worldwide, vcita champions digital and financial inclusion for SMEs by partnering with major banks and financial enterprises, such as Mastercard, to provide small business customers with innovative, added-value services that go beyond banking.
For more information about how vcita can help you add authentic value for your SME customers with their digital first solution, visit www.vcita.com/partners
Why digital identity is a key catalyst to accelerate economic recovery
The origins of measuring economic activity in the form of GDP date from the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 1600s, with today’s calculation model being formed in the 1930s. The global pandemic impacted the UK economy with a severity and speed unseen in more than three centuries, with the first lockdown resulting in the biggest GDP decline on record, contracting by 19 per cent in the second quarter and shrinking by nearly 10 per cent over the whole of 2020.
As we look ahead through the rest of this year and beyond, we anticipate and hope for brighter, healthier and more prosperous days as we transition to a new normality. Unfortunately, many businesses have already permanently closed their doors. Surviving companies have been forced to fundamentally revise existing business models and processes. Many well-known high-street chains have taken a decision to become 100 per cent digital brands, with an online-only offering. Such a move was not solely a response to successive lockdowns, but a recognition of an already well-established trend away from the high street and towards mobile as a primary channel for consumers.
An assured digital identity process
In a world where increasingly we learn, work, entertain and access health and financial services and support online, there is an increasing need for businesses to adapt and refocus on their digital customer engagement and experience. This will become paramount, not only to achieve corporate commercial success and growth but also for society and the UK economy as a whole to prosper.
At the heart of virtually all of these online engagements is the need for an assured digital identity process: the need to be able to securely prove that we are who we say we are has never been more important for both individuals and businesses and as a catalyst for overall economic growth.
Complex online customer sign-up processes are driving abandonment rates ever higher as individuals simply give up trying to complete frustrating form-filling tasks. Coupled with online fraud and identity theft, this places additional strain on business attempts to make online customer engagement seamless and frictionless.
The pre-pandemic study by McKinsey, ‘Digital identification: A key to inclusive growth’, detailed how an assured digital identity solution can generate economic value equivalent to between 3 and 13 per cent of GDP by 2030. Given the economic contraction the UK has experienced, along with an accelerated digital shift, we can safely expect the benefits of an assured digital identity solution being significantly higher for the UK than previously forecast.
Such an assured digital identity solution is not a long-term technology pipe dream – it is here and accessible now. OneID by Digital Identity Net is the independent digital identity platform piloting with some of the UK’s leading banks and businesses. Using the UK’s Open Banking services, individuals can leverage their existing assured personal identity, held by their bank, to simplify and secure their online lives. For businesses and public sector agencies, introducing such a frictionless customer sign-up service assures them that the person they are dealing with is verifiable through the identity details held on their behalf at their own bank.
Tackling fraud and social inclusion head on
This bank-led approach ensures every single adult with a UK bank account can have access to and use an assured digital identity solution. That’s 97 per cent of the adult population. There is no need for individuals to sign up or complete a complicated joining process – or for the public or private sectors to fund and build a new technology platform – and no requirement for a complex data store of personal information. All of this already exists. We already use the banks as the trusted custodians of our data, the Open Banking system is fully operational, and the technology and rules are already built and ready for banks and corporate organisations to plug in and start using them.
So we already have within our grasp the widest possible coverage and inclusivity for digital identity in the UK – a factor that can help to address existing social inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. With the huge shift to online, the impact of digital exclusion for many vulnerable sections of society has been acutely felt. This exclusion is much more than simply a lack of reliable online access, resulting in lost education opportunities for many less privileged children. In addition, the inability of individuals to prove their identity online has impacted access to finance, health and other essential services, along with creating new opportunities for criminals to prey on the vulnerable.
An assured digital identity solution can help tackle the social menace of fraud, allow businesses to better engage with new customers online and address several aspects of social exclusion. Collectively, the many benefits of an assured digital identity can be a key catalyst in driving the economic recovery we can all look forward to.
To find out more about OneID and how your organisation can join the free pilot, visit www.digiidnet.co.uk.
by Martin Wilson, CEO, Digital Identity Net
Welcome to the factory of the future: the role of real-time tracking in Industry 4.0
It’s becoming increasingly hard to find a business feature or news story that doesn’t discuss technology. We live in a time of smart devices controlled by our voices, artificial intelligence that can analyse zettabytes of information in seconds, phones that can control household appliances and much, much more. Increasingly, we find ourselves surrounded by connected devices that encompass the internet of things (IoT), smart technology, disruptive innovation and machine learning.
This is particularly true for the manufacturing industry, where automation and artificial intelligence are poised to define it the sector over the coming decades. Collectively, they form the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0, as it is more commonly known.
First, some background. The original Industrial Revolution took place during the 18th and 19th centuries, and gave us industrial machinery, mass mechanisation and a move away from producing what we consumed on farms and in workshops to large-scale production in factories. From the 1850s to World War One, electricity moved us on again. We created steel, built assembly lines and welcomed in a new age of mass production. This was the second industrial revolution – Industry 2.0. The third industrial revolution was all about IT and information as we became comfortable with computers, digital replaced analogue and manufacturing began to shift towards automation and robotics. Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things, is the fourth disruption, characterised by digital twins, process digitalisation, location awareness, remote sensing and artificial intelligence (AI).
Connectivity is the underpinning of Industry 4.0. For the manufacturing sector, warehouses and logistics facilities, one of the most important potential impact areas is in asset management and insight, particularly into the complete production chain. Asset tracking is well established within manufacturing – after all, there has always been value in locating individual assets, tools or planning replenishments. However, Industry 4.0 has seen an explosion of Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) and the move from passive to active technologies that enable the pillars of the new industrial revolution, by providing accurate and reliable location information.
Quuppa’s Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) platform gives businesses a full view of every detail of their production process, allowing them to see precisely when, where and why problems arise – in real time. Armed with this actionable data, organisations have the power to optimise processes immediately to make business safer, more efficient and more profitable. By knowing essentially “what is where” in real-time, it is possible to digitise the physical world; that is, to create a dynamic digital model of the real-world environment.
It can be used to automatically identify and track the location of staff and workpieces in production lines or in the factory hall, as well as mobile inventory in facility management. Introducing measures for ensuring advanced workers safety, analysing how equipment is being used, and assessing the efficiency of the supply chain lets businesses identify opportunities for improved workflow, increased safety and security, and improved customer satisfaction levels.
For example, most manufacturing relies on heavy equipment such as forklifts and other specialised machinery. RTLS collects data on how this equipment is used and its journey through the production line, such as when a piece of machinery is turned on or off, its usage hours and how long it has been at a station – and more. This can all be used to pinpoint inefficiencies, identify any unsafe behaviour or bottlenecks, equipment overuse, predictive analytics, or misuse during off-hours, which ultimately helps streamline operations and reduce costs.
In addition, a consistent issue in manufacturing is simply finding the tools or equipment, as it is quite common for a manufacturing line to rotate machinery based on production stage or the product being produced. In manufacturing, time spent searching for specific tools and equipment is, effectively, an increase in production costs.
In situations such as this, smart solutions such as ThinkIN for Industry 4.0 show their usefulness. An advanced IoT solution for smart factories, it uses Bluetooth-based RTLS for real- time accurate monitoring of workers and assets, with the raw data processed to extract actionable knowledge on the execution of industrial processes and to optimise the factory efficiency.
Worker safety also comes into play in smart factories, especially today in the Covid era. Knowing where people are on the production floor, whom they have been in contact with and other location data is valuable for several reasons: compliance, efficiency, security and safety. The ability to gain a real-time overview of personnel within the premises means back-up teams are informed about the current location of individual workers and, in the case of contact tracking, it provides a fast and reliable source of information for isolated workers that may have been exposed. Furthermore, the facility manager can promptly be notified of the area which requires sanitation and cleaning, without having to shut down the entire floor. Meeting the compliance requirements which minimise manufacturing and operation disruption is critical for maintaining efficiency.
An example of this can be seen with Canadian company ILR industries. Concerned about employee safety and security, it adopted a scalable RTLS solution that combined Quuppa’s indoor positioning technology with ThinkIN’s location intelligence software. It not only improved worker safety and security, but also enabled the business to increase productivity and enhance efficiency with revised workflows.
Industry 4.0 is well on its way, and the pace of change in IoT, digitalisation and smart factories will continue to accelerate. The incorporation of RTLS presents the opportunity to optimise processes and efficiencies by giving businesses a single view of work in progress and immediately locate any asset across multiple facilities; its ultimate strength lies in the optimisation of asset utilisation. As technology continues to advance and use cases develop, there is still a lot more disruptive innovation and smart technology to come for manufacturing. It’s an exciting time for the industry.
To find out more about RTLS and what Quuppa’s solutions can offer the manufacturing sector, please visit https://quuppa.com/industry-4-0/
The future of blended learning
The pandemic has brought the importance of online learning into the spotlight, as well as the higher education institutions that struggled to quickly adapt and offer effective online support to their students. As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, we’re seeing how universities’ teaching methods have been impacted, and what important lessons have been learned.
It’s hard to believe that a year ago, the term “blended learning”, where online education is combined with traditional classroom-based methods, was virtually unheard of outside of the world of academia. But when the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, universities were forced to rapidly shift their teaching and learning resources online, subjecting their existing digital resources to the ultimate stress-test. This presented a whole host of obstacles for both students and lecturers.
As an online learning resource provider, whose innovative processes offer students studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) modules in university video tutorials customised to their exact syllabus, Proprep was already ahead of the digital learning curve.
The beginning of the revolution in digital learning
Before Covid-19, teaching methods were already in need of an overhaul. A 2014 meta study confirmed that students studying STEM degrees using passive learning methods such as traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail. However, adopting an active learning model and putting the student at the centre of different teaching methods such as flipped, blended and online classes achieved far better learning outcomes. Also, multiple studies demonstrated that video is a highly effective educational tool, and shorter videos in particular allow students to process information more efficiently and have improved memory recall.
This research confirmed the methodology that Proprep, which launched in the UK in 2019, was already using to develop its study tools. Proprep placed short online video tutorials at the cornerstone of its successful blended learning model, which also includes online workbooks, study guides and practice questions and solutions.
Focusing on STEM subjects, and using award-winning artificial intelligence and a team of seasoned professors with more than a decade of experience, Proprep built a vast library of more than 50,000 online video tutorials, all between five and seven minutes long. Proprep continues to add to this on a weekly basis and can develop resources customised to a specific university module, which includes 75 to 95 video tutorial hours and around 1,200 practice questions and study guides, in less than 20 minutes.
This technology has already achieved incredible results in Israel and the USA, with more than 500,000 students and lecturers relying on this innovative method to create learning materials.
Breaking down learning barriers
Suddenly, complicated STEM topics once deemed difficult to teach or learn could be carefully dissected into bite-sized videos that students could access at any time, from any device. This allowed students to learn at their own pace and ensured they had access to information that is laser-focused in its relevance to the student’s specific course.
Universities were initially hesitant to adopt this dynamic approach to learning, but the pandemic forced their hand. Proprep’s response to this mass exodus to online learning was to open all its resources to students, free of charge, for the entire academic year. Having already partnered with 25 student unions around the UK, Proprep also reached out to multiple universities to offer them access to its learning resources and analytics to track students’ learning activity.
Keeping the student at the centre of Proprep’s study resources helped demonstrate to universities and academic professionals alike that Proprep supplements students’ learning, rather than trying to replace the lecturer.
This saves lecturers valuable time by enabling them to offer additional, reliable resources to their students via fresh learning content in a wide range of mediums. This means Proprep can support universities as well as students, in equal measure.
The future is active blended learning
As we cautiously approach normality, with a confirmed date set for students to return to campuses, this gives universities an exciting opportunity to embrace their newfound digital literacy. By continuing to fine-tune their online offerings, giving students access to active blended learning tools and recognising the capabilities of third-party tools such as Proprep, universities can reach incredible milestones. The barriers to difficult subjects can be slowly lowered as they become more accessible, with dropout rates reduced while students’ academic results improve.
Gone are the days of having a job for life. In the 21st century careers are constantly changing, making certain skills obsolete in a matter of years. Continually changing your profession will soon become the norm, so being able to teach yourself new skills is essential. Students learning critical thinking, problem solving and self-learning skills at university will help ensure their ability to easily evolve and adapt to their workplace. For students and universities, a bright, post-pandemic future of enhanced digital learning is on the horizon.
by Itay Koppel, CEO, Proprep
Agility in the new Digital Normal: How European businesses can thrive in a post-Covid world
Matt Williams, Managing Director EMEA, Telstra
Covid-19 has changed the way in which we live, learn and work together, perhaps forever. People worldwide have been forced into a rapid digital transition that we had no choice but to adapt to, and accelerate with. Organisations have had to implement entire business strategies that would have otherwise taken years in a matter of months. Employees have had to change their entire work routine, learn new skills and become used to a completely new way of working.
At Telstra, we wanted to understand how organisations across Europe are adapting to this sweeping change. This is why we launched our Agility Report, to discover how they are updating their digital transformation strategies to get the best out of their business at such a critical time. What we found showed that the best-placed organisations were those which focused on their security, and which were able to adapt quickly to fast-moving developments.
Security – an ever-evolving and challenging landscape
It’s clear that cyber-security is more important now than ever in a company’s digital transformation strategy. Unfortunately, the pandemic, coupled with a fragmented workforce, has presented a unique opportunity for cyber-criminals. Our research found 65 per cent of respondents reported an increased number of cyber-attacks during the pandemic.
The energy, oil, gas and utilities sectors reported the greatest increase in attacks, with 80 per cent stating the pandemic had impacted the number of cyber-attacks for their organisation.
Accidental and non-malicious attacks also increased during the pandemic, with some going completely unreported due to a lack of training, or even to simply avoid embarrassment. It is imperative we provide a supportive culture where individuals can openly ask questions, learn how to spot and avoid threats, and report suspected incidents. As a strong security culture can only be shaped by the behaviours of individuals over time, leaders also need to set an example for employees and the wider public to emulate.
However, it’s reassuring that businesses have been quick to realise the heightened risk of attacks, as more than half of our respondents reported that improving cyber-security is a key priority in their Covid-19 recovery strategy.
Agility and cloud – a business necessity
The agility of a business is increasingly a key indicator of success, and that has never been truer than in the midst of a global pandemic. Our research showed that business agility became vital during the pandemic, with success hinging on how quickly organisations could react and adapt to a disparate workforce and customer base. Those who adapted quickly were the winners, and many cited cloud as the key technology that enabled their success. It is therefore surprising that only 23 per cent of respondents reported that their organisation has a cloud-first strategy, with almost half (49 per cent) expressing a need to migrate more applications to the cloud.
Ultimately, the research showed that, regardless of whether organisations implement a cloud-only or hybrid model, they cannot afford to forego the agility benefits that cloud can deliver for both network and business performance.
Applying digital transformation in a Covid world
From our research, it’s heartening to note that organisations are moving in the right direction with their digital transformation strategies, with the majority identifying themselves as more agile than they were before. Four in five respondents agree their organisation needs to increase the pace of its digital transformation, since it underpins their ability to operate, and is a business imperative for future growth and success.
At Telstra, we have always been agile, offering remote working for our employees. So when the pandemic hit we had the technology and tools in place to adapt to the new reality. Remote working used to be a workplace perk, but now it is a necessity.
European businesses have invested heavily in their digital transformation despite the economic downturn, with respondents reporting an average increased spend of 2.71 per cent as a result of the pandemic. Of those surveyed, the financial services industry in particular reported 3.5 times more digital investment than any other sector, with an average spend of $6.55 million.
Building and maintaining confidence
It’s encouraging to see that the businesses surveyed reported strong progress in their digital transformation and innovation plans, especially since a significant proportion identified themselves as being less agile before the pandemic. However, agility should not be the sole consideration in terms of coming out stronger from the pandemic. Cyber-security and a cloud-first approach, as mentioned earlier, are also mission-critical. It is only when this trifecta is addressed that organisations will be able to emerge with confidence into the post-pandemic world.
Read the full report & learn how Telstra can support your transformation journey here.
AI: enhancing the future of digital transformation
Digital transformation is no longer an inward tactic used to reform an organisation’s operations; it’s now a necessary undertaking sought out by CIOs and IT leaders. Recent developments have pushed organisations to embrace digitisation, causing the fourth industrial revolution and technologies such as artificial intelligence to go mainstream.
Even though, according to Gartner, only 53 per cent of AI projects make it from prototype into production, companies can’t ignore the benefits of successful AI implementation. Enhanced AI solutions such as the artificial intelligence of things (AIoT), conversational AI and machine learning (ML) are improving the future of digital transformation and offer more innovative ways than ever before to address business challenges.
AI: an end-to-end platform scaling your digital transformation
Today’s AI solutions can be customised to address a company’s unique set of challenges. But are these capabilities being used to their full advantage? To adopt AI at scale, organisations should consider implementing these five AI-powered tech trends that are shaping the future of digital transformation:
1. Artificial intelligence of things (AIoT)
Senthilkumar Ravindran the Executive Vice President & Head of Digital & Cloud Transformation – Virtusa EMEA
AIoT, an advanced hybrid of AI and the internet of things, puts a new spin on the way we look at ML. AI and IoT offer niche capabilities that can both be leveraged once implemented together. Deploying AIoT solutions requires expertise in both areas; hence companies need to collaborate with agile partners to view the once separate solutions as a singular unit.
AIoT involves intelligent, optimised, and real-time orchestration of physical and digital processes across process control systems (PCSes), manufacturing execution systems (MESes), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other technologies to increase overall efficiency.
Some use-cases for AIoT include self-optimising supply chain systems, cyber-physical systems and automated regulatory inspections which leverage drone technologies.
2. Conversational AI
Sanjeev Gulati the Executive Vice President & Head of Digital – Virtusa Americas
According to Markets and Markets, conversational AI’s global market size is expected to grow to $15.7 billion by 2025. The chatbot market is also likely to see exponential growth, with Business Wire projecting it to reach $5,638.64 million by 2023.
Interactive voice response (IVR) is one AI solution offering to drive market growth, because it can work with copious amounts of data. Leveraging conversational AI, businesses can improve user experience, IVR containment and omnichannel collaboration to maximise cross-selling and upselling opportunities. Conversational AI will also enable advancements in platform governance, microservices and application programming interfaces (APIs), natural language processing (NLP) optimisation and bot repositories.
Businesses now have complete platform ownership with conversational AI solutions. This means they can address issues that arise from a lack of context in a conversation. Conversational AI also creates communication between once-disparate applications, leading to a simplified escalation process by deciding what is automatable and what is not.
3. Low-code no-code in AI
The growing need for technologies to accelerate and democratise the data science process has paved the way for advanced AI applications.
No-code AI creates democratisation, empowering line-of-business, management and operational teams with advanced analytical capabilities without requiring specialised data science skills. Many of these no-code platforms are easy-to-use, visual drag-and-drop tools. One challenge companies face is that the complex workflows currently in use by most AI/ML models won’t allow them to implement no-code solutions. If organisations want to benefit from these tools, they will need to migrate to a more sophisticated eAutoML platform that enables true no-code end-to-end automation.
4. Machine learning (ML) and hyper-automation
Hyper-automation works in harmony with AI/ML technologies and leverages digital process automation (DPA) and intelligent process automation (IPA). It also can automate inflexible and unstructured processes that in the past were non-automatable.
For hyper-automation initiatives to be successful, businesses cannot rely on static packaged software. Automated business processes thus must adapt and respond to changing circumstances. Almost all the leading process automation platforms are embedded with aspects of AI/ML to allow for responsiveness. While the Covid-19 pandemic caused an increased need for learnable solutions, these enhanced capabilities will continue to be used and improved long after it ends.
5. AI on the cloud
AI has become integrated into every aspect of human life. The next big opportunity in digital transformation is integrating the cloud with AI-powered devices to organise and retrieve data. This collaboration not only enhances the performance of AI-enabled devices but also allows unstructured data sources such as conversations to be collected, analysed and used to a company’s benefit.
Siri, Alexa, Google Home and others have already proven the multiple use-cases of AI in the cloud. With the adoption of hybrid cloud models increasing, businesses can capitalise on pre-trained and ready-to-use ML and deep learning models to strengthen their data analytics. Even companies facing capital constraints can leverage the capabilities of such models.
Merging AI and cloud to scale won’t be easy, but it’s inevitable. Companies need to think beyond implementing ML tools solely to enhance customer service and harness the power of the cloud to optimise the entire customer journey.
A promising future ahead
When deploying newly developed AI systems and ML models, businesses often struggle with system maintainability, scalability and governance. Thus, a robust AI engineering strategy is pivotal to running successful, integrated AI initiatives rather than a set of specialised and isolated projects.
Spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach $77.6 billion in 2022, according to a recent update on the Worldwide Semi-annual Cognitive Artificial Intelligence Systems Spending Guide. One can say AI is ready for a business world marred with unprecedented disruptions and uncertainty. But the question remains, are businesses prepared to use AI to turn their goals into reality?
Brains and bots: Virtusa’s take on AI
Virtusa helps clients accelerate innovation through deep digital engineering across multiple industries. Since AI is at the forefront of the digital revolution, we have developed a suite of AI advisory, experimentation and engineering services to help clients get results faster.
At Virtusa, we help businesses leverage the benefits of next-gen technology such as AI. To find out more, click here.
Generation Z: when it comes to behaviour, not all digital natives look alike
Gradually over the past few years, the once-ubiquitous discussions about millennials are being replaced by an interest in the new kids on the block: generation Z – or, to give them a recently assigned alias – “Zoomers”.
According to most reckonings, to be genZ means you were born some time between 1997 and 2012 (although this varies depending on who you listen to – some estimates say the youngest Zoomers were born as late as 2015). GenZ is defined by the influential Pew Foundation as being:
" More racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet. They are also digital natives who have little or no memory of the world as it existed before smartphones."
But as with previous generations, the temptation is to lump this generation together and assume they all respond to similar experiences, attitudes and behaviours no matter where in the world they grow up.
Most notably, genZ has grown up in a digital world, saturated by technology. Media commentators tend to describe them as having similar consumption habits, creating a “global youth culture”. We wanted to challenge this one-size-fits-all approach, by focusing on one aspect of genZ: their use and experience of technology.
We looked at genZ media use in three Asian countries: Japan (east Asia), Vietnam (south-east Asia) and United Arab Emirates (UAE in western Asia). Our study has been published in a new book, Generation Z in Europe: Inputs, Insights and Implications.
Are all digital natives the same?
GenZ has been linked to hyperconnectivity, a constant attachment to their smartphones and the ability to easily learn new technologies and navigate websites and apps. When it comes to internet or mobile phone use, one-third of genZ-ers in Asia spend six hours or more a day on their phones and 36% of them say they “carefully curate” their online presence.
There are some minor differences in the online platforms used by genZ in each country. The Japanese use video-sharing websites (60.5% of respondents) the most and also play a lot of online games (50.7%). They also use social media every day – a recent survey found that Line was the most-used platform, followed by Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tik-Tok and Facebook. Live video broadcasting is also huge, with young people streaming on average between 300 and 500 minutes of content per month.
In Vietnam, 99% of genZ report having a Facebook account and 77% are on local social networking app Zalo. Interestingly, though, 99% say they still watch TV every day – compared with their peers in Japan where only 12% watch TV regularly.
As one of the most advanced digital economies in the world, the UAE also has one of the highest smartphone adoption rates at 96%. Generally, genZ in the UAE use their smartphones for an average of around three hours a day. But here we see the influence of the culture within different countries, as it is reported that some male family members limit the ability of their female relatives to access social networks, reflecting the traditional gender divisions within the UAE and affecting how people socialise and interact.
When it comes to how much genZ-ers in different countries trust what they see online, there’s quite a difference across the three countries we surveyed. A survey from DecisionLab found that Vietnam’s generation Z reports a high level of scepticism about the internet. When it came to trusted sources of information, parents and “experts” topped the list at 72%, while just 13% reported trusting online reviews.
In the UAE, concerns focus on smartphone security due to a national cybersecurity awareness programme targeted at the younger generation.
How do Zoomers shop?
When it comes to shopping, technology plays a key role in purchasing decisions across Asia. This manifests in different ways in the three countries. In Japan, the top three information sources that genZ used for purchase decisions were websites, such as online retailers (66.4%), family and friends (54.2%) and social media (40.9%).
Young people in Japan will search the internet to find information to support purchase decisions but also say they tend to discuss their intentions with their friends on Line before buying anything. Gen Z in Japan is greatly influenced in their brand selection by video content: they learn about new brands via video-based social media (YouTube or TikTok).
In Vietnam, by contrast, while genZ-ers also use the internet for shopping they reported being more likely to rely on their parents for advice when shopping for themselves.
In UAE, research suggests that genZ-ers prefer the physical shopping experience. If they use technology, it’s more likely to be to find out where they can go to get what they want and compare prices and quality. The UAE has some of the most advanced shopping malls in the world, where physical and virtual worlds are integrated.
How to reach your market
As with the rest of the world, we found some common ground across Asia: technology and particularly social media is an important influence on the way that Zoomers interact and make choices in relation to shopping and work. But social media used by this cohort is also shaped by cultural and traditional patterns within each country.
So even within one continent, there are important differences within genZ in relation to the use, and the influence of, digital technology.
We may be looking at a cohort of digital natives who have grown up with smartphones and social media technology, but it’s far too simplistic to talk about a single generation Z in relation to its characteristics and behaviour. Advertisers take note – do this at your peril: to reach your market, you first have to know how they get their information.
Create the technology platform your hybrid work team needs for the post-pandemic world
Legacy systems won’t support the long-term growth of the hybrid work model. Your team needs the data networking, security, collaboration and unified communications solutions that support an in-office experience anywhere.
Much has been written about the growth of hybrid and remote work models over the past year, but these models weren’t invented in 2020. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, companies were adopting the technologies that support hybrid and remote work.
As the world envisions a post-pandemic future and, according to Gartner, 82 per cent of leaders say they will allow at least some form of remote work, the cultural shift is impossible to roll back. Leaders and team members recognise that “work” is an action, not a place; as long as employees can do their jobs, the location doesn’t matter.
Lynda Gratton, professor of management at London Business School and founder of HSM, notes that hybrid work exists in the upper quadrant of a time/place matrix, as noted in her recent article for Harvard Business Review.
Work arrangements in place and time
Working in the office from 9 to 5 used to be the norm, with companies allowing limited flexibility in where or when employees worked. The pandemic has upended that model, as managers recognise that many employees can work productively anywhere, anytime.
“Leaders know that a hybrid work model requires the right platforms and tools,” says Michael Strople, President and CEO, Allstream. “At Allstream, we partner with our customers to deliver the right tools that will create a solid and agile technology platform for hybrid work.”
Allstream partners with large and small enterprises across North America to power their transitions to hybrid and remote work. We ask four foundational questions to help customers create a technology platform that replicates the in-office experience anywhere:
Do all team members have robust, powerful Internet access?
“The most important technology in the hybrid work toolbox is internet access. Modern data networking solutions offer the flexibility, reliability and simplicity that make hybrid work models successful,” says Matt Waldo, Allstream Product Manager. “For example, software-defined wide-area-network (SD-WAN) solutions provide a solid, reliable way to support remote and hybrid team members while prioritising key applications, such as voice.” SD-WAN allows companies to take advantage of multiple low-cost Internet connections to connect as many remote locations as necessary, allowing remote workers to have an in-office experience from anywhere and stay connected to colleagues even through disruptions with automatic failover.
Do the connectivity solutions maintain security and support any compliance requirements?
Today, businesses of all sizes find team members working anywhere, from remote offices and home offices to airports and coffee shops, domestically and internationally. For certain industries, such as finance, regulatory compliance and data privacy are real concerns as employees pivot to working remotely.
“There are several kinds of security solutions that can help keep a business’s data safe and compliant,” says Waldo. “SD-WAN solutions create private and secure connections, VPNs prevent unauthorised access when working on a public network, and firewall updates can be pushed from the cloud automatically to ensure your protection is always current.”
What tools best support the collaboration needs of individuals and teams?
Collaboration in the post-pandemic world looks much different than it did a few years ago. Connections that took place face-to-face now happen online and across devices. With modern tools, companies can recreate those interactions online. In any given day, a team member might participate in multiple online web conferences from the home office, check team availability with presence and messaging features, start an impromptu meeting from one of several devices, and review a document in real time with a teammate across the country. The right tools make all those options seamless while maintaining quality and security.
Does the communications solution support hybrid work, and if not, what solution would give team members the in-office experience anywhere?
“No office environment of any kind, whether in-person, remote or hybrid, can be fully functional without a solid communications system,” says Don Thorsen, UC Product Manager, Allstream. Telephone services are still vital to the operation of any business, especially when it comes to the customer experience: a 2020 report from Zendesk found that 66 per cent of customers typically resolve issues with a company by phone. “Even though customers now expect a variety of options to connect with companies, the ability to call and talk to a ‘real person’ remains an important channel for connection,” says Thorsen. But many legacy communications solutions don’t adequately support a hybrid work model. “Older on-premises systems likely don’t give team members all the functionality they need when working remotely, and even some modern cloud solutions may not have the integrations to replicate the full in-office experience,” he adds.
Every company should evaluate three key areas when deciding how to implement the right calling solution for a hybrid workforce:
Devices: a good unified communications (UC) solution will allow team members to use the devices that meet their unique needs, whether that means a desk phone and headset, a soft phone, a mobile phone paired to a work number or the flexibility to switch between multiple options.
Cloud vs on-premises: moving from a premises-based phone system to a cloud system sounds daunting, but there are a number of advantages to making the switch, including budget control, business continuity and flexibility.
Contact center tools: providing a stellar customer experience requires a solution with fully integrated contact centre tools that give modern customers every contact option they expect and help resolve calls quickly. A robust contact centre solution enables your business to provide a full omnichannel experience to customers, improving both customer experience and your bottom line.
As companies across the globe navigate the future of work, Allstream is ready to partner with them to provide the best in connectivity, security, collaboration and telecom services. With a network of local partnerships, a team of product and technology experts, and a full array of solutions, we can help businesses position their hybrid work teams for long-term success.
For more information on how Allstream can get you set up on hybrid work, click here.
Revolutionising risk management: Ways to advance and enhance
Despite new risks having emerged amid the volatile global environment, existing risks such as cyber-crime and climate change haven’t gone away. Compounding this are new regulations on the horizon, such as those recommended in The Brydon Review, where it’s likely we’ll see increased scrutiny over risk management, compliance and internal controls in the coming months.
The rapid pace of change in the past year has undoubtedly created significant short-term challenges for organisations worldwide, but only now are the long-term consequences beginning to manifest themselves.
Arguably, Covid-19 has highlighted deficiencies in risk management that otherwise might never have been brought to light. Though what’s clear is that those who have taken a more dynamic and frequent approach to their risk practices have been better able to future-proof their business and tackle the ongoing turbulence initiated by the pandemic.
Here are some ways organisations can enhance their performance in four of today’s key risk areas, while maintaining rigorous compliance and agility:
As innovation rises, so too do risks. Yet conversely, the risk of not innovating can be just as high. This places a considerable onus on risk managers to help their organisations strike the right balance between risk and reward.
Due to the nature of innovation, propositions are often in a constant state of development, rendering point-in-time engagement from risk executives impractical. For risk management to be effective, it must be embedded throughout the development process, with continuous interaction between risk and innovation teams. Furthermore, risk controls should be an integral part of product design, especially in the face of regulations such as GDPR, which maintains “privacy by design” as one of its leading principles.
Innovation risks undoubtedly alter the risk profile of an organisation and potentially fuel other technology-related risks such as cyber-crime and fraud – creating another strong case for implementing new risk controls and a wider discipline of digital conduct.
One prime example of innovation risk managed well is e-commerce giant JD.com, whose radical advances in contagion-mitigating technology and robotics have increased the retailer’s stock price by 97 per cent in the past year alone.
At the same time as organisations are expanding their digital footprint, cyber-threats are growing exponentially in their sophistication. Although this has largely made traditional risk management frameworks unworkable, a data-driven approach can help businesses to better quantify cyber-risk and sense check their cyber-response capabilities.
Data can be derived from multiple sources including audit findings, threat intelligence tools, asset lifecycles and defect management to help build a real-time picture of risk, while providing key insights to the security team and senior leaders for more informed decision-making.
That said, a cyber-risk framework is only as good as an organisation’s first line of defence – its valued employees. An all-hands-on-deck style is the surest way to instilling a culture of cyber-security accountability at all levels of the business, supported through training courses and robust policies to raise awareness of today’s ever-evolving cyber-risks.
By identifying and addressing vulnerabilities before they become an issue, risk professionals can reduce the likelihood of their organisation being a sitting target and thus protect their end-clients as they continue their digitisation journey.
Rising expectations from stakeholders in recent years have indicated that high environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance could lead to improved profitability and business opportunities.
Microsoft is one such case in point, becoming the first company in its sector to target a “carbon negative” status by 2030. Since creating a $1 billion fund to reduce emissions and carbon usage, Microsoft received the highest ESG rating (AAA) from MSCI ESG Research in 2019.
Covering a wide set of issues, a failure to incorporate ESG into enterprise risk management practices could see businesses lagging behind their peers. Particularly so if they do not make the connection between ESG and materiality.
While laws and regulations mandating disclosure is a key driver for putting forth a robust ESG strategy, businesses should adopt an approach that transcends simply meeting compliance requirements. A critical starting point is to develop a purposeful culture around ESG that is exemplified at the top and instilled throughout the organisation.
Board oversight is also crucial to the effective integration of ESG risk management and subsequent long-term sustainability. Senior leaders should work closely with risk teams to monitor ESG performance against the company’s goals, making activities such as megatrend analysis, media monitoring and regular ESG materiality assessments a core part of the wider ERM framework.
With the regulatory landscape changing at a rate of knots, businesses that rely on antiquated, reactive ways of managing compliance risks could open themselves up to a host of negative repercussions, from both a financial and reputational standpoint.
However, an integrated compliance framework facilitated by technology can not only enable companies to be more risk-intelligent but can also help keep compliance standards in check, ensuring policies are adhered to at all levels of the organisation.
Coupled with a best practice strategy for managing regulatory compliance risk, today’s advances in automation and regtech can provide a 360-degree view of compliance while delivering meaningful insights and highlighting gaps in processes or deviation from policy.
Moreover, as authorities place increased focus on the quality and completeness of regulatory data, businesses will need to show that they have systematic controls and tools in place to provide accurate regulatory and compliance reporting. By putting transparency at the heart of regulatory risk management through digital means, organisations can have the confidence that their regulatory obligations are being met, mitigating the chance of them falling foul of non-compliance.
With a focus on high-level risks as well as the more granular impact of risk across the board, businesses will not only benefit from a competitive advantage in future but also greater resilience and compliance in times of extreme disruption. Are you ready for a risk management revolution?
Discover Ideagen’s market-leading Pentana Compliance solution and how it can help to protect your financial services organisation from regulatory risk.
Why Omni-CX shouldn’t be optional
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “the only constant in life is change.” More than two millennia later, nothing could be truer for the world we live in.
The distinct feature of today’s change is the rapid speed and acceleration of change enabled by notable inventions – such as handheld mobile phones in 1973 and the internet in 1989. These have engaged more than 66 per cent and 59 per cent of the world’s population through voice and digital platforms – that’s more than five billion people connected globally. This has triggered a significantly different order in human history – one of hyper-connectivity.
These modern devices can read us the news in the morning, summon a car to our front door in minutes, and are a faithful companion for our daily loo breaks. That phone isn’t going to scroll itself.
Today, 2.74 billion people use Facebook to socialise – 33 per cent of the world’s population. More than two billion people use WhatsApp to communicate, and a further two billion watch YouTube on a regular basis.
This has only increased since Covid-19. While fewer Ubers were summoned, we began depending on digital platforms to maximise our time and resources. Both businesses and people unlocked their screens to enter a remote world of learning, work, exercise, socialising, healing, shopping and gaming – all day, every day.
While digital helped adapt operating and business models to secure business continuity, organisations were always one step behind. As consumers spent an increasing amount of time online, the way they engaged with businesses changed. Chatbot engagement increased as telephone helplines decreased, the use of self-service applications grew and brand loyalty changed hands if demand couldn’t be met after the sympathy window closed.
This saw a huge investment in optimising and digitalising marketing, sales and customer service experiences. In fact, according to Deloitte, “34 per cent of banks implemented fully digital processes (products opening etc) during Covid-19.”
But what happens now? We’re already seeing business leaders start to tackle the unavoidable looming question: how are we going to resume business operations and effectively engage our employees and customers in the post-pandemic world?
On the employee front, there are signs that some of the changes necessitated by Covid-19 may continue to serve businesses and their stakeholders well. For instance, work from home practices could help businesses operate efficiently, save considerable real estate costs and benefit from a flexible and agile workforce. On the other side of the coin, employees may continue to enjoy flexibility, spend more time with their families and save on travel costs.
According to a recent Gartner HR survey, “41 per cent of employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time post coronavirus pandemic.” However, this model doesn’t suit all industries – retail, hospitality, health and travel to name a few.
Another noticeable development that the pandemic has facilitated, and which is likely to stick, is the blurring of behavioural boundaries of the typical digital customer generations – X, Y, and Z. According to Sprout Social, 72.8 per cent of Facebook users are between 18 to 44; similarly, wearesocial reported that more than 67 per cent of users who play video games on any device are between 55 and 64. Essentially, it is no longer justified to associate digital consumption with a specific generation.
Digital has gone mainstream and morphed the behaviours of varying digital generations into an omni-customer. Despite the Covid recovery challenges faced by businesses, this new class of omni-customer will expect emotionally engaging, consistent, proactive and personalised service experiences both via digital and non-digital channels and touchpoints.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. To thrive and not just survive in this new world of unforgiving customer expectations, organisations will need to rethink their business and/or operating models and reinvent their customer experience (CX) value chain so they can deliver an unbeatable omni-CX.
Delivery of omni-CX is not about establishing or extending your online and offline footprint. Nor is it about introducing channels of choice or digitising your business. Development and delivery of an omni-CX requires a mindset change – it is about developing a customer-obsessed business where customer intimacy drives your people, process, technology and investment decisions. It is about transforming your business from an omni-customer’s perspective.
Instead of thinking about channels and touchpoints, processes and technologies, customer segments or markets, develop a considered set of sense and respond capabilities and competencies. Drop these into an operating model that enables your business to know your customers better than they know themselves, and deliver to them marketing, sales, and services experiences that are predictive, proactive and personalised on a consistent basis.
Businesses that will lead the omni-CX competency race will operate with open and agile processes and technologies, enabling their businesses to pre-empt and respond to the emerging threats and opportunities in a concise and assertive manner. Omni-CX businesses will be ruthless in reinventing themselves and the ecosystems they operate within – forming partnerships with organisations that live and breathe in the same digital-first, CX-obsessed agenda.
As Ghandi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
If you’re ready to lead your business into the post-pandemic world, ECS, a GlobalLogic company, is in the business of enabling its customers to deliver leading-edge Omni-CX. Email email@example.com or visit ecs.co.uk to get started.
Zaheer Gilani leads the ECS CX Business Consulting proposition – he is an experienced customer service and CX industry veteran with more than 20 years’ experience working and consulting for FTSE 100 brands globally. Zaheer is the author of Customer Journey Mapping Workbooks, and he developed and launched the CX industry’s first mobile game, Customer Experience Game 3D.
Remote working: why some people are less productive at home than others – new research
Many companies do not routinely measure productivity. A large number will have traditionally assumed that they get the highest output when staff work longer hours or under close supervision, but remote working is clearly causing some to re-evaluate this. Major firms, for instance professional services group PwC, have been sufficiently impressed to make remote working a permanent option for their staff.
On the other hand, some business leaders insist that remote working is compromising productivity and is therefore not workable in the long term. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, for example, has dismissed it as an “aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible”. So who is right?
Surveys tend not to be good at measuring productivity objectively. The research partnership Work After Lockdown, on which I’m a co-investigator, has been trying to improve on this. We have just published the results of an ESRC-funded survey in which we asked 1,085 respondents working from home in the UK about their productivity.
We chose to use standard measure of labour productivity used by economists, output per hour worked, where output refers to the value of the goods or services in question. Using this meant we weren’t just measuring whether people were working longer hours.
We asked our respondents whether they felt that their self-reported productivity was the same, better or worse compared with the pre-lockdown period. From the results, 54% thought they got “a little more” or “much more” done per hour worked than before the lockdown.
Combined with those who reported that their productivity was the same as before lockdown, it meant that almost 90% reported that productivity had been maintained or improved – echoing the results of other UK studies. In other words, barely one in ten people reported that their productivity had gone down during lockdown. So why would working from home have made most people more productive, but some less so?
Productivity and mental health
We also questioned our respondents about their mental health, and scored them using the World Health Organization’s WHO-5 index. From plotting the results on the graph below you can see a very clear pattern, with higher productivity associated with better mental health. In fact, the mental health scores for the most productive workers in our survey were twice as high as the least productive.
Productivity and mental health of remote workers
It is not clear from our data whether poor mental health causes or contributes to a decline in productivity or whether being productive helps to boost mental health. It seems reasonable to think that both are probably true.
To explore this relationship, we looked at people’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and their capacity to overcome setbacks or interruptions – referred to in the literature as self-regulation. We might expect people with such abilities to remain focused on a task, and be more productive as a result. Sure enough, this was supported by the data.
Over 90% of our respondents reported that they could concentrate on one activity for a long time; 94% said they were able to use the autonomy afforded them by their employer to re-order work tasks; 85% said they could control their thoughts from distracting them from the task in hand; and 83% said that they had no problem resuming a concentrated style of working after an interruption. Each of these dimensions of self-regulation were strongly positively correlated with high productivity per hour worked.
It’s worth remembering, of course, that many people working from home during lockdown have been living with mental-health challenges such as isolation, money worries, home-schooling or other health problems. Clearly if organisations want to ensure that employees are productive working from home, the value of investing in measures to support psychological wellbeing is very clear.
Working in future
The social disconnection of working at home over an extended period may well erode people’s mental wellbeing and productivity in future – perhaps especially among workers who thrive on interacting with colleagues and clients to swap and shape ideas. The outgoing chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, has expressed concerns about this, and 73% of our survey respondents reported that they ideally wanted working patterns that allowed them to vary their place of work to reflect the tasks they were performing.
With this in mind, it has become very fashionable for companies to talk about “hybrid” working lately. But it’s an imprecise concept, and if businesses are to give employees clarity around what can be done at home and what needs to happen at a traditional workplace, they will need to decide which jobs truly need to be done at a particular time or location.
Getting this wrong may risk compromising the mental health of employees – for example, if prolonged remote working increases isolation or increases work intensity. It may also mean that companies never quite manage to deliver the long-term productivity gains they are hoping to secure once lockdown is over
Use the predictive power of AI so you know what happens next
Every company wants a competitive edge and greater efficiency, but too many of the tools at your disposal are not delivering results. To identify the right data and cut through the noise you need evidence-based forecasting. Relying on gut feelings is risky. Nothing can compete with data-driven insights informed by human expertise. And for businesses coping with continuing disruption, artificial intelligence (AI) offers unparalleled opportunities to predict customer demand and anticipate emerging market trends.
“AI gives us better predictions at speed in a highly unpredictable environment,” says Kriti Sharma, VP of Product at global data and analytics firm GfK. “It helps us navigate uncertainty going forward and that's an interesting mindset change for many businesses.”
AI decision-making, with models enriched by core company values and access to the most relevant data, will help you build a foundation for future success. Without predictive insights, there’s a real risk that you’re missing out on making the best possible decisions for your business.
Building trust in AI decision making
“If we want to fundamentally transform how businesses make decisions, we need to trust AI,” Sharma explains.
But placing trust in AI is a leap of faith for many organisations requiring courage at board level and culture change throughout the business. It takes careful planning to strike the right balance between AI insights and human expertise.
“It’s not as simple as hiring data scientists to build a model for success. AI decision-making must be grounded in company values,” says Sharma. “We build technology that lives and breathes the values of the business or service it provides.”
Where possible AI systems should be designed around people who can inject industry knowledge and expertise. When organisations are inclusive, the predictive insights they unlock are truly transformative.
Realising the promise of AI insights
AI insights reveal more of the road ahead, so companies can see trends as they emerge and pivot to take advantage. With an accurate picture of their true competition, businesses can hone products and services to better deliver what customers desire. Your deep domain knowledge together with AI that can pinpoint relevant data and patterns is a powerful combination.
“Companies want to know what drives consumers to do certain things,” explains Sharma. “Our clients are making the most important decisions they have to make, where they have the least confidence today based on our analytics and our predictions around consumer behaviours and trends. We are revealing what motivates people to purchase, how these patterns are changing, and how they differ across different parts of the world.”
GfK’s AI technology insights platform, gfknewron, reaches beyond internal expertise to dive deep into purchasing data and market trends that answer important questions about your customers. It reveals their motivations, innovations that genuinely matter to them, what triggers people to buy, and how purchases improve quality of life.
Human-centric AI insights enable companies to drill down to a granular level with specific questions about purchasing decisions. If there’s only one brand of monitor left on the shelf, for example, will people buy now or wait for their favourite brand to come back into stock? Will buyers delay a purchase to get a product in their favourite colour?
With gfknewron, businesses gain access to a continuous stream of rich market intelligence. Relevant insights that cut through the noise help businesses mould sales strategy, meet supply and demand, and identify innovations worth pursuing.
The future of AI in business
AI insights uncover new correlations and hidden connections. Predictive insights reveal that a customer who can’t go on holiday to Greece this year will choose to buy a smart vacuum cleaner instead, for example. Insights help companies look beyond how one camera compares to another to the complete story of a customer’s journey to find the right blend of innovative features, efficiency and price that defines their ideal camera and triggers that purchase.
“We are starting to predict human behaviour and human habits,” explains Sharma. “And combining that with how the markets function, how supply chains function, and how price and promotions factor into consumer decisions enables us to help clients develop winning strategies.”
As partnerships between people and AI evolve, they will push beyond the identification of trends and motivations to anticipate our needs. Forward-thinking companies will harness AI to drive the trends curve rather than react to it.
Watch the full interview to deep dive into the impact of AI on business results.
Quality digital transformation runs on quality IT data
We live in a world inundated with data. For organisations with even a modest IT estate, the growth in the volume of data gathered from their systems, processes, customers and products has grown exponentially in recent years. Historically, IT data has been siloed because of separated, disparate systems and data generation and collection mechanisms. As such, the relationships and interdependencies of data within these segregated environments have been hidden at worst, and opaque or obscured at best.
With the growth of public cloud and the associated services it provides, the ability to break down silo walls and intermix datasets is greater than ever. Organisations are embracing these opportunities. However, with new operating models comes an even greater influx of data generated by new systems and services.
While it may have been the situation years ago that IT data was not robust and rich enough to fully support the needs of different stakeholders within an organisation, such as CFOs, CIOs, business unit leads, product leads, that’s no longer the case. We’re in a new era, where these stakeholders will have all the data they need to make better business decisions – and to make them faster. We’re now able to extract meaningful and insightful data from areas that were previously impossible or at least extremely difficult – complete asset discovery across hybrid environments and full visibility of all resources across the entire IT estate are now viable.
Curate, calibrate, and enable
The challenge now is to curate and calibrate this huge volume of data to enable IT leaders to be more agile and make better decisions faster. The ability to collect data on all aspects of an IT estate also means that we must now address important questions. How much data is too much? The answer is debatable. Is all this data relevant? Probably not.
In data analytics, while the quantity of data matters for the law of large numbers to kick in and make our findings statistically significant, the quality of the data is paramount. As the following figure from the Flexera 2021 State of Tech Spend Report shows, the top challenge IT professionals mentioned with regard to making forward-looking decisions was the lack of quality data. Note that they did not say there wasn’t enough data, but a lack of data in which they had confidence.
Image provided by Flexera
As the saying goes, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” With the tools and services available for data collection in modern IT systems, it’s probably safe to say that we’ve figured out a multitude of ways to do adequate measuring. The situation is now shifting from a data collection question to one of data validation and data relevance.
History shows us that it’s possible to make bad decisions with good data. The opposite is true as well: it’s extremely difficult to make good decisions with bad data. For example, without the ability to normalise and “dedupe”, or eliminate duplicate copies from, a dataset, it may appear that more data points exist to support a decision than is actually the case. The result: strategic go-forward decisions may be made based on skewed or inflated results.
As more and more workloads are evaluated for deployment to the public cloud, this need for clean, accurate data becomes even more critical. An organisation needs to have more than visibility into what IT assets it has. It must have clarity about how those assets interact (or don’t interact), which are nearing end-of-support (EOS) or end-of-life (EOL), which would be out of compliance if they were moved or migrated to a different environment, and so on.
Having an exhaustive list of the “what” in an IT estate is important, but without the cleansing, normalising, deduping, and enriching of that data, good decisions will be hard to unearth from the mass of collected data. And without the enrichment and contextualisation of your data, not only will the ability to make good decisions be hampered, but the speed at which these decisions can be made will be throttled as well.
When it comes to data, more is not always better. More is good. But better is better. And better leads to faster.
Technology value optimisation tools
So how do we prevent the paralysis by analysis that can be caused by the overwhelming quantity of data resulting from measuring everything? The good news is that as the collection and storage tools for these vast datasets have evolved over time, so have the tools for inserting sanity into the chaos. Technology value optimization (TVO) tools, in particular, help organisations visualise their entire IT estate and make data-driven decisions that are aligned with organisational goals.
Select the tools and techniques that exist in the marketplace (from both cloud providers and third-party vendors) that allow you to sift through the mounds of data, extract the unique and relevant data points, then enrich those data points with the additional context (such as compliance information or EOL/EOS data) that will enable you to make good decisions with good data, quickly and with agility. Data normalisation from multiple sources can help you make data-driven decisions to align IT management to support improved business performance.
For greater insights into your own hybrid IT environment, from on-premises to SaaS to cloud, visit IT Visibility | Flexera
by Brian Adler, Sr. Director Cloud Market Strategy, Flexera
Employee success: your greatest lever for business success
Success is a universal ambition in business. Many businesses have mastered their offering and have loyal customers to prove it, but few have managed to tap into the potential of their greatest lever for business success – their talent.
True success is achieved when businesses have engaged and productive employees who create exemplary products or services that retain and delight their customers.
Companies that fail to engage and motivate their employees will find it difficult to succeed, suffering from increased turnover and difficulty growing revenue and profit. Industry leaders connect the dots between employee engagement and employee performance – and know how to drive employee, team and business success.
Empowering your CHRO to drive business success
If employee success is your greatest lever, your biggest catalyst is your HR leadership. They play a huge role in the success of your employees – and therefore your business.
Effective HR leaders know the ins and outs of what’s happening with their people. They have access to data that shows what’s going well (and what’s not) with employees. They are uniquely positioned to drive business success metrics when they have strong and strategic partnerships with senior leadership.
But too many HR departments operate in a silo, disconnected and misaligned with the strategic goals of the business as a whole. A Gartner survey found that 70 per cent of CEOs expect their chief human resources officer (CHRO) to be a key player in enterprise strategy, but only 55 per cent say their CHRO meets this expectation.
If you want to build alignment and leverage your CHRO to positively impact your business, you need to lean on HR as a strategic partner. Here’s how you can view and work differently with HR leadership to drive business success.
1. Expect more from your HR leaders
Building a successful talent strategy requires a deep understanding of how different roles, functions and departments work. Your HR leaders are plugged into the organisation through your workforce and can help you look at business challenges with a people-focused lens.
Create a shared understanding of your business by ensuring HR leaders have access to information about products, services and strategy to propel your business forward.
2. Nudge leaders to advocate for and support each other
Talent-savvy leaders recognise that increasing employee engagement can improve how well employees perform at work and bolster business results. Senior leaders who are strategic partners and team players will help you achieve your desired results faster, for longer.
Prioritise communication among your C-suite to stay aligned and on a path to success.
3. Make data-driven business decisions
Business decisions should be driven by data and evidence, not hunches or assumptions. Your CHRO can help you identify key insights and tell stories that drive action on the right things, at the right time.
Work with HR to review, analyse and integrate your data with key performance metrics to impact the most critical areas of your business.
4. Invest in your people management teams
The largest spend for most organisations is workforce and labour costs. Yet HR departments remain vastly underfunded.
Gartner’s HR Investment: Budget and Staffing Snapshot reports most HR functions spend an average of $1,350 to $3,800 per employee and have a HR-employee ratio of 1:66. Organisations looking to maximise employee and business success should use this as a minimum when thinking about their people investments.
Partner with your CHRO to help you determine what organisational resources and support are needed to make the biggest impact on your talent strategy.
5. Share the responsibility
To grow and succeed, you can’t be constantly stuck in firefighter mode. You must zoom out and think about the long-term future of your organisation, while your leadership team makes progress on the ground level.
Lean on your CHRO to influence and direct your talent initiatives to recruit, engage and retain talented employees that help your business succeed.
Empowering your employees to drive business success
It seems like a no-brainer: employee success drives business success. Our research found that common drivers of employee success include:
However, employee engagement and performance are often neglected in favour of other business priorities.
A study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, in association with Quantum Workplace, found that more than half of business executives say the primary business goals for their organisations’ investments in talent are productivity and retention. Yet one in three say their organisations have actually improved these areas as a result of their investment.
To drive business success, you need leaders who can help you motivate and empower your employees. Organisations who do this well will:
When you invest in your talent and build alignment across the organisation, everyone pulls together with a common purpose – resulting in higher employee engagement, stronger performance and greater business success.
Find out how you can leverage your HR team and activate your talent to achieve business success with Quantum Workplace’s free Business Success toolkit.
Images provided by Quantum Workplace
Artificial intelligence: fad or business staple?
According to techjury.net, 77 per cent of the world’s population uses artificial intelligence (AI) but only 33 per cent are actually aware they’re doing so. The smartphone that’s sitting beside you or perhaps in your hand, the videogames your kids are playing in the next room, the Spotify station you’ve got on in the background, and the list goes on – all utilise AI while you go about your activities.
Business administration operations, such as smart email categorisation and automated customer support, already routinely use it. But even though so many people worldwide, including you, are using AI in their day-to-day operations, many are still sceptical about how these technologies can and should be used more intentionally in business.
What is AI and how does it contribute to visibility?
At its core, AI is just a technology’s ability to use an algorithm (or set of instructions) to process data, optimise the outcomes of those algorithms based on the data it collects, and therefore display a sense of “intelligence”. It can learn from past processes and improve its algorithm to become the best digital co-worker your team could ask for, working along in the background to help your business. And though data is used to increase automation across your processes, it’s also used to improve decision making by providing insights, smart recommendations and helping your organisation do the right thing.
One of the biggest realisations we’re taking away from the pandemic is that financial visibility is key to ensuring business continuity. Understanding your cash flow and supply chain and finding ways to stay agile through disruption is vital to the success of growth of an organisation. AI informs automation, and automation then drives the data needed to inform real-time insights into cashflow. This sort of analytical visibility helps keep suppliers operational, cash flowing and business in action.
How can AI boost e-invoicing and procurement?
You can see that top businesses are taking steps towards implementing AI, you can see some of the values realised after implementation, and you can rest easy knowing that your workforce won’t be replaced with blinking, square-headed robots with claw-arms. AI works entirely as servant, not master. And since it runs in the background of your operations, you’ll hardly know it’s there – much like you don’t consider what’s keeping a plane in the air when you’re on a flight.
Let’s take a look at how AI can work in action in your procure-to-pay (P2P) process.
For starters, if you’re a multinational firm with a history of mergers and acquisitions, your financial tools may be varied and disparate. At Basware, we build a layer on top of those existing tools to harmonise your entire financial process and then integrate it with the existing landscape.
These modern technologies will enable AP and procurement departments to achieve efficiencies such as:
• Automating the conversion of machine-readable PDFs to electronic invoices (e-invoices) with close to 100 per cent accuracy
• Saving time and energy across all P2P functions and redirect energy to more strategic initiatives
• Improving cashflows and generating savings through early payment discounts and DPO optimisation with faster invoice processing times
• Drastically reducing manual handling of business documents in both procurement and AP
• Identifying increased savings potential by gaining visibility over 100 per cent of your organisational spend
• Achieving high-performing supply chains by analysing supplier performance and quality
• Considerably increasing both your data quality and accuracy
AI strategy is here – for the short-, mid-, and long-term
According to Forbes, “90 per cent of leading businesses already have ongoing investment in AI technologies. More than half of businesses that have implemented some manner of AI-driven technology report experiencing greater productivity.” And Forbes isn’t alone in these findings. NewVantage research from 2020 shows that 91.5 per cent of top businesses surveyed report having an ongoing investment in AI. And 54 per cent of business executives in a PWC survey say their adoption of AI within the workplace has led to significant boosts in productivity.
For example, our own personal experience paired with research from multiple sources shows ways businesses are using AI to improve their organisations:
• 36 per cent of executives say their primary goal for AI is to optimise internal business operations (Harvard Business Review)
• 36 per cent of executives say their primary goal for AI is to free up workers to be more creative by automating tasks (Harvard Business Review)
• 79 per cent of executives worldwide say artificial intelligence will make their job easier and more efficient (The Economist)
• 72 per cent of business decision-makers say AI can enable humans to concentrate on more meaningful work (PwC)
• AI can warn of late payments to increase early pay discount capture and increase overall savings
• AI can process millions of financial transactions to analyse and provide insights
This all shows that AI is here to stay. For the short- and mid-term, AI will dominate the finance landscape. In the long run, it will combine all external data along with the internal data to analyse and drive further efficiencies.
The ecosystem advantage for B2B companies
In today’s market, consumer subscription companies such as Netflix, Hello Fresh and Birchbox grab all the attention. But something interesting happened while no one was looking: almost every B2B company – 95 per cent, in fact – now offers a subscription-based product. It’s a huge milestone for the $13 trillion B2B market, and it has big implications for the way that B2B companies develop, market and sell their offerings.
“We’re operating in a different world now,” explains Dan Saks, co-founder and co-CEO of AppDirect, a company that offers a best-in-class subscription commerce platform. “The near-universal availability of B2B subscription products means that digital recurring services are table stakes. You need subscription-based products to help you tread water, but the companies that are really thriving in this new environment are creating ecosystems.”
Over the past 12 years, AppDirect has played a key role in much of that success. The San Francisco-based company has helped enterprises around the globe – including Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and ABB – build and launch market-leading ecosystems. As another example of success, Saks points to Salesforce’s AppExchange, the company’s ecosystem of digital add-ons.
With AppExchange, customers get access to thousands of complementary recurring services, while Salesforce saves on development costs and generates revenue for itself and its partners. “Today, it’s no longer the company with the best product that wins. It’s the companies with the best ecosystem of products that add the most value to a core platform,” Saks says.
According to Saks, the key to creating an ecosystem that delivers value is making sure you have the right mix of technology, strategy and expertise to help ensure it all works together seamlessly. “Once you start getting into the details, the complexity of an ecosystem model might seem overwhelming,” he says. “But a successful digital ecosystem is within reach of any company. You just need to make sure that you understand your organisation’s goals for an ecosystem and that you have the right capabilities to reach them.”
Three must-have capabilities for successful ecosystems
Depending on your business case, there could potentially be dozens of requirements for your ecosystem. Drawing on his decade of experience with digital ecosystems in the enterprise, Saks outlines three main priorities that every organisation should figure out before launching an ecosystem strategy.
The first is the customer experience. “Unlike one-time transactions, an ecosystem can involve multiple handoffs between providers and customers,” says Saks. “All of those transitions must be seamless and invisible to the end-user. Your platform should be able to support a robust, digital marketplace that showcases and monetises your digital products while providing an easy, intuitive experience for customers.”
Next, partner onboarding is an obvious yet often overlooked capability that many companies can struggle with. “Without satisfied partners, an ecosystem won’t last very long, so the partner experience needs to be top of mind as you plan your strategy,” says Saks. “Think about how you can streamline and optimise the experience and processes for selling through resellers, referral partners, distributors and other types of stakeholders.”
Lastly, Saks points to one fundamental capability that ecosystems cannot survive without: automation. “If any of your ecosystem processes have to stop because a person needs to come in and take an action, it’s a huge red flag,” Saks says. “The seamless operation of your ecosystem and more importantly, the customer and partner experience, depend on automating your workflows. You need a robust billing engine, along with the ability to efficiently connect to internal systems such as CRM, ERP and other business-critical tools.”
Static ecommerce versus dynamic subscription commerce
This gets to the heart of the biggest difference between standard B2B transactions and true ecosystem-based, subscription commerce. “For many companies, their commerce systems were built around the idea of a product-centric go-to-market strategy, with a catalogue of goods that were sold and shipped to customers,” Saks explains. “It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that their backend solutions, like billing tools and ERP systems, were built around the concept of products, catalogues, inventory and one-time transactions.
“B2B subscription commerce, on the other hand, is dynamic, and it requires different technology and a different mindset. You have to think beyond one-time transactions and build a strategy around easily supporting customer relationships that change over time. The companies that understand this difference and use it as the foundation of their digital ecosystem strategy end up seeing the most value.”
Today, six of the world’s top seven companies are ecosystem-based, and a recent Accenture survey found that more than eight in 10 executives believe ecosystems are critical to their success. Digital ecosystems with subscriptions at their core are a clear path to company growth and success in the digital economy.
Gretchen Dukowitz is Senior Writer at AppDirect. To learn more about the capabilities you need for a successful digital ecosystem, and how to launch and scale a recurring revenue strategy, read ‘The Definitive Guide to Subscription Commerce’, a comprehensive deep-dive into subscription technology, strategy and best practices from AppDirect.
The pull of data gravity
More than ever, today’s mass data sets are on the move. According to the 2021 IDC Cloud Data Storage and Infrastructure Trends Survey, commissioned by Seagate Technology, 47 per cent of enterprises use a centralised cloud storage architecture. In two years, that number will fall to 22 per cent. Conversely, 25 per cent of respondents currently have a hybrid storage architecture (a combination of both centralised and edge locations); that number will rise to 47 per cent in two years.
As a result, data increasingly needs real-time processing at the edge and transport to the cloud to extract more value from it through computationally intensive tasks (such as training of large machine learning models). Additionally, the amount of enterprise data is rising exponentially – at the astonishing average annual growth rate of 42 per cent.
Mass data matters
As this proliferating data spreads from cloud to edge, organisations must contend with a shift in data gravity.
According to another new Seagate-sponsored report by IDC, Future-Proofing Storage: Modernizing Infrastructure for Data Growth Across Hybrid, Edge, and Cloud Ecosystems, as storage associated with massive data sets continues to grow, so will its gravitational force on other elements within the IT universe.
Just as stars form from scattered clouds of dust that collapse over time from their own gravitational attraction, concentrations of data have a gravitational impact too. Data gravity is the power of data to attract applications, services and other data. “Workloads with the largest volumes of stored data exhibit the largest mass within their ‘universe,’ attracting applications, services, and other infrastructure resources into their orbit,” according to the IDC report.
Generally speaking, data gravity is a consequence of the amount of data (mass) and its level of activation. A body of data with greater mass exerts a stronger pull on the infrastructure surrounding it.
What does all this mean for enterprise leaders? They must implement a strategy to efficiently manage mass data sprawling across cloud, edge, and endpoint environments – especially when designing data storage infrastructure at scale.
What worked for terabytes doesn’t work for petabytes. As enterprises aim to overcome the cost and complexity of storing and activating data at scale, they should seek better economics, less friction, and a simpler experience that’s open, limitless and built for the data-driven, distributed enterprise.
Specific attention should be given to the economics of data movement. Physical data shuttles such as the Seagate® Lyve Mobile, for example, can often prove a more cost-effective and faster solution for large data ecosystems, with the bonus of faster time to insights. As the Future-Proofing Storage report finds, IT environments need architectures that enable “the migration and management of stored data, along with the applications and services that rely on it, regardless of operational location.”
You can learn more about how enterprises can overcome the challenges posed by data gravity by watching Seagate’s Datasphere 2021 General Session, where Seagate experts offer guidance on managing mass data, its exponential growth and sprawl.
Ensuring access to data
A way to do this is to make sure that data is stored nearer applications that require lower latency. This can be accomplished by using cloud-native designs that containerise applications and execute close to users, as well as interact with, create, and store data close to the point of origin. Containerising applications simplifies management and deployment.
Containerisation provides a clean separation of concerns. Developers can focus on their application logic and dependencies. IT operations teams concentrate on deployment and management without bothering with application details such as specific software versions and configurations specific to the app. The benefits to businesses are agility and efficiency, and often better security and TCO improvements.
Enterprise data infrastructure should follow the five key principles of cloud-native architecture, as outlined by Google: 1. Design for automation (of infrastructure). 2. Be smart with state. 3. Favour managed services. 4. Practice defence in depth. 5. Always be architecting.
Data-centric architecture means accessibility. It increases ease-of-use and smooth operations of a data pipeline, and can impact future business innovation, improving the ability to generate metadata and new datasets, enabling search and discovery of the data and further empowering data scientists to deploy the resulting models for machine learning.
Accessibility can also positively impact application performance, reduce latency, curb or eliminate egress charges, and make it easier to manage security and compliance.
A truly data-centric storage infrastructure means awareness of which data sets are being pulled where, what is the most efficient path to move the data, and what helps application workloads run the best. It can also include automating the movement of data to reduce storage costs or moving lower-performing data sets that are not immediately or actively needed.
The business benefits of data gravity-mindful storage infrastructure include excellent customer experience, protection of data sets, policy-driven access, lowest costs for retention, preservation for analysis and management simplicity to ensure service resiliency.
Learn more about data gravity, hybrid architecture, overcoming network constraints and the growing complexity of storage management in the new Seagate-sponsored report from IDC, Future-proofing Storage: Modernizing Infrastructure for Data Growth Across Hybrid, Edge, and Cloud Ecosystems.
By John Morris, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Seagate Technology
Managing uncertainty: a CIO’s framework for IT prioritisation
Few CIOs could have predicted a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, yet they are playing a central role in navigating the global disruption that has followed, working closely with CEOs and boards to help right-size their organisations and set them up for future success. Even organisations that haven’t experienced market disruption had to scramble to accommodate remote work and adjust business models. During any period of economic uncertainty and global disruption, organisations will likely be operating in one or more of three modes: survive, stabilise or thrive.
In survive mode, an organisation is focused on putting out fires to protect the business and preserve cash. CIOs will need to take drastic measures to slash costs across the board to stay alive. Stabilise mode is where an organisation focuses on optimising core systems and applications and restarts derailed plans. In this mode, the CIO is shifting from crisis response to optimising the must-haves (remote communication, security), and deprioritising the nice-to-haves (transformation, modernisation). Thrive mode is where a company is focused on accelerating growth.
Along the continuum, an organisation may move between stages or could be in multiple stages at the same time. The key is knowing where the organisation is now and preparing for what’s next. Today, most organisations spend an average of 90 per cent of their IT budget on ongoing maintenance and operations costs. Ideally, the IT budget allocation goal should be to invest 60 per cent in operations and 40 per cent in innovation. To achieve this rebalancing, IT leaders need to free up people, time and funds to embark on a business-driven roadmap based on business priorities that support the CEO’s goals and vision for the organisation.
The power of prioritisation
With proper prioritisation, the CIO has the power to shift the budget equation and steer their organisation into a thriving future. However, reacting without evaluating the entire picture could leave the organisation bleeding cash.
The CIO should be asking the tough questions – both of their team and of executives – to be able to come back to their CEO and the board with a proactive plan of attack. These questions provide a guide for prioritisation decisions:
As the CIO evaluates IT initiatives, they need to be ruthless. If it doesn’t increase revenue, decrease costs or gain market share, they should not waste resources on it.
Prioritisation framework for the business-driven roadmap
Digital dominance is poised to separate the winners from the losers in the new normal. However, today’s CIOs struggle to find ways to fund both operations and growth. It’s more important than ever that CIOs bring their prioritisation superpowers to the table to gain alignment with their CEO.
Using this framework, CIOs can optimise IT investments and shift more budget towards following a prioritised business-driven roadmap. This approach can help CIOs narrow their strategic focus and fund what’s important.
As the current crisis lingers, knowing where the budget priorities lie, and keeping in lockstep with the CEO and other key stakeholders, will be essential to staying afloat. Employing these strategies now will help the CIO proactively manage volatile conditions and emerge stronger on the other side of turbulent times.
For more information, click here.
Interview: how AI and IoT enable businesses to adapt to a post-Covid-19 world
2020 has shown us the importance of managing building environments. Organisations, especially those engaging customers in person – such as retailers, small-format store operators, restaurant chains and retail banking firms – must transform their building operations in order to conduct business. Investing in technology-driven solutions is key to creating and maintaining an intelligent building portfolio. We’re at a point in history when businesses must make a shift into the future state of building operations.
Mansoor Ahmad, Managing Director at EcoEnergy Insights, a global leader in providing artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) solutions for building operations, speaks exclusively with Business Reporter on how businesses have been impacted by the pandemic and how AI and IoT-enabled solutions can lead businesses into the future. EcoEnergy Insights is part of Carrier Global Corporation, the leading global provider of healthy, safe and sustainable building and cold chain solutions.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we look at buildings?
The pandemic presented significant challenges for businesses that operated commercial buildings. It shone a spotlight on the criticality of creating healthy indoor environments and controlling the spread of disease within premises. The goal of providing “occupant comfort” has evolved into “occupant wellbeing”. For retailers, it’s not just about customer wellbeing but also the employees who cater to customers in person. They must operate buildings in a way that inspires confidence in customers to walk through their doors and experience their products and services.
Research suggests that healthy buildings can significantly improve cognitive function and they similarly impact societal health and climate. All in all, we’re seeing that healthy buildings can impact the bottom line for a business – from reducing energy waste to increasing worker productivity.
Luckily, in the past few years, technologies such as AI, IoT and big data have made buildings more intelligent and made it easier to predict and control indoor environments. These technologies are leading a change in building operations and the pandemic has accelerated this change.
How has the pandemic impacted building operations?
Research published in 2021 has shown that, post-pandemic, there is a heightened focus on AI-based building solutions, HVAC optimisation and cloud-based remote services. AI-based solutions enable the development of occupancy estimates in buildings, which can then be used to optimise operations in real time. HVAC optimisation through technology such as IoT enables the monitoring of equipment to improve ventilation and monitor indoor air quality (IAQ). Cloud-based remote services enable businesses to address multiple issues remotely and co-ordinate technician efforts in the field, thereby saving costs, human effort and time.
The pandemic has altered our lifestyles and made a few things more normal, including working from home, celebrating occasions over teleconference calls and other activities done virtually. Similarly, the pandemic has made incorporating digital tools in building operations normal. It is now more common to add technology to allow equipment to offer more performance data, offer enhanced ability to control it remotely and, overall, to make equipment more intelligent.
What will the future look like?
The future will be fascinating with the rapidly improving capabilities of technology. There will be smarter devices and equipment than we have today – from the sensors, to the equipment in a building and its controls, to building automation systems, the intelligence at each level will increase. In the future, with individual levels gaining more intelligence, the ability to anticipate footfall, predict requirements in equipment performance to serve those scenarios, and control equipment to provide the desired indoor experience for a scenario, will significantly improve. There will be far greater automation, and decisions will be data-driven.
With such levels of automation and control, occupants will also have a lot more choice and control in their own hands. We were already seeing use cases in hotels where a guest could tailor the room temperature and lighting to their preferences and mood. Such cases will only increase in the retail or commercial spaces.
In the near future, hygiene will continue to be an important factor. Customers will be averse to touching surfaces and being in the vicinity of too many people. They will want to control their environment. They will even want to know more about the “health” of the destination store or building in advance of visiting to shop, dine, watch a movie or even work out. With the rise in these customer needs, the ability to fulfil them and ensure customer satisfaction will lie with the facility teams that operate the buildings. The facility teams will need to offer a consistent experience to customers across the building portfolio while managing costs. Technology will be the common factor through which building facility managers can achieve their objectives and customers can have more power at their fingertips.
What should businesses do today to ready their buildings for tomorrow?
Businesses need to steer onto the path of digital transformation and invest in building automation equipment, cloud technologies and remote services. While they may appear to be separate pieces, they are vital pieces of the puzzle that should be viewed as a whole. This approach can prepare businesses better for the future when intelligent equipment arrives.
It’s not only about the equipment and the solutions – businesses also need to focus on change management. There will be a shift in behaviour of facility operations teams and even organisational culture when adopting such technology. Teams will be enabled to move to a more proactive model of working where predictions drive actions. Equipment or systems might even act autonomously based on predictions. This will be a significant evolution from the current scenario, where teams respond to problems.
Retailers and other multi-site enterprises simply must adopt technology to have centralised enterprise visibility into how their building portfolio is performing and delivering a consistent experience to customers. They will need to make customers comfortable to walk in and spend time experiencing the products or services. AI, IoT and cloud-based remote services are the way forward for these enterprises.
EcoEnergy Insights – named “Overall IoT company of the Year 2021” by IoT Breakthrough – can enable your business to digitally transform its building operations. Click here to know more and sign up for opportunity assessments.
The open route to 5G
Imagine there was a major new technology that was going to transform everybody’s life. Conspiracy theories aside, it was going to make everything faster, and enable objects such as autonomous vehicles to communicate with each other instantaneously so the world would be safer and more efficient.
Now add a caveat or two. Assume the operators of this new technology were dependent on two providers who offered both the hardware and software, with many competitors having dropped out over the years. This might be as much due to politics as technology or business. Add to this the idea that the existing version of this new technology is essentially plastered over old infrastructure and consider also that it’s a closed technology, so anyone wanting to add bits will have to master the gateway into it rather than use a common open interface.
The 5G duopoly
These are all elements of the infrastructure that currently makes up 5G, the super-fast wireless network currently being rolled out across the world. And this is what concerns Stefano Cantarelli, chief marketing officer of Mavenir, a disruptive and innovative player in the global telecommunications space. His main worry is the absence of competition. An industry veteran, he has seen the mobile network infrastructure providers dwindle from a vibrant community to effectively just two players, Nokia and Ericsson, with Huawei the most recent to exit because of political concerns. “Without competition you find companies sit back and take a rest,” he says.
“Without competition there is no innovation. And although there’s no sign of it happening, if either of the infrastructure providers came into difficulties in the coming years we’d really end up in trouble.”
Opening up a new model
The difficulties with the existing infrastructure are numerous, Cantarelli argues, partly because it is restricted so the hardware manufacturer makes the software as well. A preferable model is Open RAN (Radio Access Network), in which the whole structure is virtualised and made multi-vendor. Mavenir is one of a number of companies promoting this new approach.
Virtualisation consists of making the software independent of the hardware so it is possible to fire up a virtual computer (or other device) anywhere. This allows an infrastructure to be set up anywhere, offering extreme flexibility.
There are obstacles. Inertia is one of them. There was an adage in the IT industry 30 years ago: nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. The same holds true of the current “safe” options, which is why Mavenir is calling on governments to incentivise mobile carriers to adopt the Open RAN infrastructure. Its openness allows smaller, local companies to add specific products and functions without having to master both hardware and software production. This would widen participation and make competition and therefore innovation better. “Some governments are already helping,” says Cantarelli, “with tax, with help finding premises and with incentives that support the local economy.”
Equally importantly, Open RAN allows for a more thorough implementation of what’s known as standalone 5G: at the moment nearly all the 5G service in the world consists of a 5G radio signal overlaid on 4G or older infrastructure. Think about putting performance petrol, suited to racing cars, in a family vehicle and you get the idea. Open RAN, with its virtualised multi-vendor approach, makes it possible to get the best of all worlds, allowing the use of one company’s radio signal with another’s processors.
Unlocking 5G for everyone
Currently, the unit that distributes a network signal and the radio signal that carries it are locked together, which means the supplier must specialise in both. It has to be a giant, which is why there are now only two. Governments, and indeed mobile network operators, would like there to be more.
According to the Telecoms Infrastructure Project – a Facebook- backed industry group looking to help extend advanced mobile network services – there are now 15 commercial deployments of Open RAN across the world, with Vodafone UK among them. A further 50 trials of the technology are also happening.
Open RAN is a powerful alternative in a market whose operators are demanding a greater choice. It opens the field up to smaller, more localised suppliers, who will need to innovate to compete. Cantarelli is clear: although his job is in marketing, his soul is in technology. “I am all about those technologies that disrupt the way we work,” he says, “And this is the biggest disruptor to this established market for 20 years.”
For more information visit www.mavenir.com
Guy Clapperton talks to Stefano Cantarelli, chief marketing officer at Mavenir
Whether you build or buy, IoT security is a must for us all
Vincent Korstanje, CEO of Kigen
The range of available IoT products is broad and continually growing. Industry estimates that there will be trillions of IoT devices in the next decade that will connect virtually everything in our homes and businesses. Secure and trusted IoT identities and data assured at source and at the point of exchange will be a catalyst to digital growth.
Change in perception of security
Traditionally, under fierce commercial pressures IoT device manufacturers prioritise performance and price factor over device security. Failure to embed trust in connected devices may lead to costly and disastrous consequences. With the ever-increasing number of connected devices, all the stakeholders, including IoT device manufacturers, service providers and businesses designing services, must change their perception of IoT security from a “nice to have” to a “must-have”. Security will be an essential part of the user experience and will allow businesses to gain the longer-term engagement of their customers. “Businesses that place the onus on building trust as a vital part of their social contract with their users will win in the connected future,” says Vincent Korstanje, CEO of Kigen.
Unlocking the data opportunity with trust
At the heart of virtually all our digital engagements is the need for strong authentication and a standardised approach to establishing trust – made ubiquitous through the SIM technology in our smartphones. That plastic SIM has undergone a huge amount of evolution over the years. Now the same robustness and reliability of security can be embedded into the circuitry, or even integrated into the cellular chipset with a secure OS, for devices that may be smaller, draw battery power more efficiently and comply to more stringent levels of security.
Recognising that the key to driving digital growth with IoT needs innovation to come from businesses of all sizes. Kigen empowers businesses to manufacture trusted connected goods and services that scale quickly with the integrated SIM security. Ultimately, streamlined access to actionable insights will help companies take advantage of IoT for growth.
An ecosystem-based approach to growth
For many businesses looking for a competitive advantage in fast-growth markets, it can be an issue not knowing who to turn to build secure-by-design IoT products. “Kigen is about the democratisation of trust in IoT, creating a marketplace where more flexibility and choice enables many options to integrate trust from the very origin of the device,” says Korstanje. Broad groups of partners bring choice, a shared vision of interoperable solutions and streamlined supply chains that can make all the difference when getting to market quickly. Deep partnerships simplify digital transformation and ensure customers get the best expertise, skills and results possible for their investment – something more important than ever in these turbulent times.
To find out more about Kigen and how your organisation can win with IoT security and trusted services, visit https://kigen.com
Going paperless in the pandemic
It’s not news that many organisations are progressing their digital strategies and considering migrating their mission-critical systems, such as records management, to the cloud. But other organisations appear to be reluctant to do so. Why is this?
During the pandemic, many organisations have, perhaps understandably, been focused on other priorities such as enabling remote working or maintaining the wellbeing of employees. Some senior decision-makers clearly feel they are too busy to consider digitisation and cloud migration just now, or that they don’t have the resources, skills or money.
The paradox here is that both digitisation and moving to the cloud saves resources. Digitisation enables sharing. The cloud enables more flexible working practices, allowing employees to work any time, at any place. IT resources can be minimised, with cloud service companies providing and maintaining networking infrastructure. These business efficiencies can quickly generate a positive return, meaning that monetary savings can be made, even in the short term.
Benefits of digital transformation
It’s clear that digital transformation can save money. By increasing efficiency, infrastructure and staffing costs can be reduced. For example, in a (small) project to create an electronic medical records system (EMR) for Papworth Hospital, project costs – including software, support, scanners, and project management were less than the annual cost of physical paper records storage and management, thereby freeing up much needed financial resources for frontline patient care such as additional operating theatres, nurses, etc.
But digital transformation isn’t just about saving money. It’s also about time efficiency and, importantly, quality. Digitised systems in medicine, for instance, enable health professionals to locate information far more rapidly than they would using paper documents. IT also allows them access to this information wherever they are, enabling them to participate in managing an emergency even from home when they are off duty.
In addition, the quality of information is increased when data can simply be duplicated from one document to another, without the need for re-keying. With re-keying errors of around 3 per cent on average in a health context, it’s obvious how digitisation can increase safety.
Digitising records management
One area where the cloud has proved invaluable is records management. Paper records can be expensive to store and maintain, hard to access (especially if they are stored offsite, as often happens when they get too large to be stored on the premises), and prone to getting lost, or even accidentally destroyed. Digital records are much cheaper to store as well as being far easier to access.
More importantly, digital records have considerable added value compared with paper files. Paper documents can be scanned and turned into digital text, which can then be searched and edited. This is an enormous advantage to anyone needing to trawl through large quantities of documents. Lawyers and healthcare professionals can benefit greatly from this facility.
Even where documents are handwritten, there can be benefits to scanning them beyond having easy access or saving storage space. Handwritten documents often take the form of handwriting on a pre-printed document. The pre-printed parts of the form can be subjected to character recognition and valuable data (such as the type of document or the headings of the sections within it) captured. The document itself can also be briefly described before scanning as a way of capturing extra information. And in a file of many documents, there are often tabbed sections that divide the file up into sections: these tabs can be recorded as a helpful index to the file’s contents.
All of this leads to real benefits for patient safety and patient care. Digital records mean that critical patient information can be accessed rapidly and from anywhere, not just in a particular clinical setting. It’s much harder for records to get lost through misfiling. And it’s easier for clinicians to find the information they require. In addition, because digitisation reduces the amount of data re-keying that is needed, digitised records are more accurate.
It’s also important to consider how stored digitised documents may be used in the future. In some cases, documents may be required for legal purposes. Scans of documents can be legally admissible, and the BS 10008 Standard helps you verify and authenticate all your information to avoid the legal pitfalls of information storage and outlines best practice for transferring electronic information between systems and migrating paper records to digital files.
Legacy records or new documents?
Whether or not most of an organisation’s existing documents are handwritten or typed, there is a powerful argument for digitising record processes in the future by moving to a paperless or paper-light documents policy. Professionals who are too busy to type up documents can have them typed separately and input as digital documents. It is even possible for them to be dictated and automatically transcribed into a digitised document by voice recognition systems. This means that documents would be available immediately.
While it is not difficult to get started with paperless strategy, it isn’t something that can simply be switched on. For example, information management specialist CCube spends eight to 10 weeks with client teams prior to starting the implementation phase of a new digital documents project. This enables appropriate planning to be put into place so that everyone knows what to expect. Involving end-users in the system planning generally means they are more likely to engage with it positively.
In 2014, a new state-of-the-art hospital was opened in Southmead, Bristol. This major hospital was soon requiring 1,000 paper patient records (from a total of 1.2 million in storage) to be delivered every day. This was highly inefficient, open to the risk of information loss and clearly unsustainable. CCube delivered an electronic patient records project that, as well as making patient records available to clinicians at the click of a mouse, is saving the hospital trust well over £1 million a year.
This type of project can seem overly ambitious. In the case of Southmead Hospital, there were hundreds of millions of pages of patient records to be scanned. Nonetheless, while this involved investment upfront, by the second year the hospital trust was saving money. Equally importantly, clinical staff had the confidence of knowing that the medical records they needed for a consultation would always be available to them in a readable format with individual pages being easy to find.
This type of system needs to be simple to use. The focus should not be on the technology – to succeed, usability needs to be at its heart. The system should be intuitive to use with minimal training required; CCube estimates that it takes less than 30 minutes for a clinician to be trained on its system.
With the right focus on delivering a usable system, digital document management can save organisations considerable money, ensure the security of documents from physical and online threats, increase the accessibility of records so that they are instantly available to authorised users, wherever they may be, and enable them to share with associated services at the touch of a button.
CCube Solutions supplies information management services to numerous organisations within the NHS, government and private industry. Find out more at ccubesolutions.com.
The internet’s economic model is broken – here’s how we can fix it
Ethical technology start-up Bubblr has been on a seven-year journey to fix a broken internet. After the US patent office approved it’s patent for a design for an alternative economic model for the internet, it is now poised to transition from newly listed start-up to global technology player, with an ambition to become a fully-listed NASDAQ business within 18 months.
Why is the internet broken?
There are three key stakeholder groups in the current economic model for the internet: ordinary people who use it to search for information, services, and products; content providers who create content to be paid for and consumed; and online suppliers who use the internet as a marketing tool to acquire prospects and make online sales.
The underlying ad-tech economic model that currently powers the internet emerged by accident after the dot-com crash of 2000-2001. Until the crash, Google and other VC-funded dot-com businesses were not under pressure to monetise their products. When the VC community insisted on a shift to monetisation, they adopted the practices of the only industry making money online at the time: the adult entertainment business. Its ad-tech blueprint was based on banner ads, pay-per-click traffic and attribution mechanisms. It was never designed to be a longer-term sustainable model, and this reality now rings true for internet companies.
Here’s why. Ordinary people have realised that their personal data is being used and abused by bad actors. Searching for stuff on the internet using Google is becoming more laborious, involving a trawl through an exponentially larger swathe of poor search results.
Small businesses find themselves locked out of using Google or Facebook for marketing leads since it is too complex and expensive. In many cases, their online participation is diluted because the market sector forces them to use costly intermediaries. For example, the lodging sector must use booking agents such as booking.com or hotels.com, who take a significant percentage of generated revenue.
Content providers are receiving ever-smaller amounts of revenue from banner ads. This has led to the demise of established news outlets, especially those for local news. It has also led to the emergence of clickbait and publishing content that is often deliberately false and controversial to acquire more views and feed an advertising model instead of producing truthful, high-quality content.
Cracks are already visible in the established ad-tech model. A debate has emerged questioning the effectiveness of ad-tech expenditure on mobile devices. Procter & Gamble recently cut $200 million from its digital ad spend and increased reach by 10 per cent. Google is already losing search traffic for specific categories of goods and services. People are increasingly using single-purpose mobile apps to purchase things such as takeaways or train tickets. Mobile shopping is booming and has increased by 300 per cent in the past four years.
The digital manifestation of Bubblr’s patent is the company’s development of an ad-free marketplace. The ad-free marketplace is an alternative economic model for the internet that, by design, provides a superior stakeholder experience that is both fair and sustainable rather than the established ad-tech economic model that emerged by accident:
• Ordinary people can anonymously access the internet with their privacy protected, as there is no data harvesting or personal tracking.
• Small and medium-sized businesses can compete with large corporations based on their online performance in fulfilling customers’ needs, instead of how much they have in their marketing budgets.
• Content providers are rewarded for producing quality content without any third-party ad placements. The economics are based on content consumption rather than clicks.
Bubblr intends to lead the way for ethical tech firms. The ad-free marketplace is a technology platform that cuts across industries, services and products. It will disrupt how e-commerce functions and provide net-new technology for the masses, business partnerships, and licensing opportunities. It can fix the problems that now favor big tech, which can signal the beginning of the end for ad-tech.
Find out more about this "Moonshot" ethical technology company at www.bubblr.com
by Steve Morris CTO and Founder, Bubblr Inc.
Snowstorms and stuck ships: the need to digitise supply chains
As in many industries, the events of the past year have served as a watershed moment for firms in the commodities space, especially as they relate to the global supply chain. Last year, a report by McKinsey & Company found that 73 per cent of supply chain executives encountered problems with suppliers, 75 per cent struggled with production and distribution, and nearly half experienced delays in planning and decision making.
Just recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on massive supply chain disruptions stemming from the historic winter storm in Texas. Perhaps even more stunning was the Ever Given container ship becoming lodged in the Suez Canal for a full week, blocking passage through one of the world’s most important waterways. In both cases, recovery could take months, with broken contracts and pricing issues adding layers of complexity. These events underscore the fact that, even as we recover from the pandemic, the global supply chain will be rife with risk and uncertainty, meaning continuity and resiliency must be top priorities.
Historically, commodity market participants have taken numerous steps to mitigate this risk: diversifying portfolios, participating in exchanges, structuring contracts to hedge against loss. But these steps, while crucial, are just the beginning of a truly modern optimisation and risk management strategy. Risk lies not only in asset allocation, but in the myriad logistical processes that support global industry.
Organisations seeking to master this volatility must be able to scrutinise every step of the supply chain. They face a number of obstacles in doing so:
At Eka, we help our clients solve these problems through digital transformation. Our integrated tools and technologies help companies plan and execute the movement of goods across the trading value chain with more insight. Commodity producers can manage capacity, shipping and storage with greater flexibility, while other entities on the supply chain can automate process decisions, improve use of assets and gain real-time visibility into material movement, inventory and quality, whether in agriculture, energy, minerals or minin
How do we enable this? Our offerings are too numerous to list here, but we can share a few of the most exciting innovations that are driving digital transformation in this space.
For example, stockyard operators need the ability to view the contents of their stockpiles and assess where space could be better used, but are hampered by their current systems – you can’t employ a two-dimensional solution for a three-dimensional world. Eka is pioneering 3D modelling for stockyard management, enabling operators to see all their assets in a graphic representation. This can serve as a crucial addition to a supply chain control tower, usually defined as an integrated, personalised dashboard of data, insights and relevant events across the supply chain. This level of precision means machines can work in greater proximity, as opposed to adhering to one-size-fits-all standard collision requirements.
We also strive to quantify aspects of the supply chain in new ways, helping stakeholders optimise operations and uncover opportunities. One of our new research and development initiatives is combining 3D modeling with machine learning to answer new questions about stockpile management. How many stockpiles are optimal for any given stockyard or bulk terminal? What elements are best combined to deliver more value to a customer? Organisations that identify answers to these questions are the ones who will thrive as this space continues to modernize.
Individually, each one of our offerings has the potential to transform how raw materials move along the supply chain, but their greatest value may lie in their ability to work together. While we offer more than 50 apps for a huge range of functions, Eka’s extensible cloud platform delivers a single user interface and a single enterprise-grade security model.
This enables the seamless integration of data across the front, middle and back office, meaning firms can take a complete view of their operations through all-encompassing analytics. Productivity is maximised through built-in schedulers and a workflow engine, while the platform’s modular architecture unlocks rapid application development for expanding functionality. These capabilities are supported by Eka’s deep commodities experience, which enables us to deliver a best-in-breed solution that contrasts sharply with generalised procurement or enterprise resource planning suites. This combination of efficiency and insight leads to results far beyond what is possible with a siloed legacy system.
While the pandemic won’t last forever, there are a host of other factors – climate change, new technologies, geopolitical complexities – that will create supply chain disruptions for as long as materials are moving around the globe. Digital transformation is the solution, and we look forward to helping organisations throughout this journey.
by Manav Garg, CEO and founder, Eka Software Solutions
AI-driven contact centres in the financial services industry
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to transform their businesses and embrace digital technologies rapidly. Digital adoption has taken a quantum leap at organisational and consumer levels alike. Increased usage of advanced digital technologies and touchpoints to keep critical services afloat has been a common denominator for all sectors, including financial services. The firms have accelerated the digitisation of their customer journeys and internal operations.
In the pre-pandemic world, a modern contact centre equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics capabilities was considered an indicator of competitive advantage. However, during the pandemic, it became a necessity. Organisations and their consumers adapted to remote and digital processes, and an efficient contact centre became crucial to keep critical services afloat and ensure operational resilience.
Banks and other financial services firms should be encouraged to rise to the occasion and ensure their customers receive the support they need in challenging times. The other side of the coin is that consumers have become accustomed to remote servicing and have realised its benefits. 75per cent of those using digital channels for the first time indicate that they will continue to use them when things return to 'normal'. Instead of reverting to pre-pandemic standards, customers are pushing for a hybrid normal. They expect a seamless and superior digital service standard from the financial services industry. Hence the question arises: how do we modernise contact centres faster, cheaper, and at scale?
From the firm's point of view, calls are the costliest medium of customer servicing and typically the least satisfactory channel. A primary goal of call centres has always been to reduce call volumes and deflect the call traffic to chat or self-services channels. However, adopting call-deflection strategies such as FAQ chatbots initially resulted in a poor customer experience as the responses were generally script-based and premeditated.
The goal of a digital customer servicing organisation is to employ a consistent strategy across multiple channels - call, chat, and self-service - to respond to customers, leading to improved customer experience and operational excellence. This seamless omnichannel customer experience with various self-servicing capabilities can be made possible with the adoption of advanced Al and machine learning (ML) in these business processes.
We are now at a technology tipping point where advancements in natural language processing (NLP), ML, and computational efficiency have given us conversational AI-powered chatbots that can understand the real intent of customers. These bots learn from previous responses, existing databases, and ongoing customer interactions to prepare answers in line with customer queries.
Voice technology has also seen exceptional advancements in recent times. Efficient text-to-voice and voice-to-text conversions and the natural flow of conversations with the ability to understand the context and stop words are bridging the machine-to-human communication gap. These automated communication channels can perform authentication, query registration, and in many cases, query resolution. Unresolved queries can then be routed to an agent for resolution, thus allowing multiple lines of defence before reaching the human in the loop.
Contact centres are growing in complexity as they shift from handling only transactional interactions such as informational calls to addressing more complex issues, including sales and purchase activities. Agents now play a vital role in lead identification, cross-sell and upsell of products and services.
With successful investment in self-service technologies and innovative deflection strategies, financial services firms enable customers to independently handle many of their basic issues and transaction activities. Agents can now focus more on complex and high-impact customer interactions, increasing the customers' lifetime value or targeting customers with high churn probability. With the evolution of omnichannel platforms, agents can also identify proactive communication channels.
More than 50per cent of banking customers surveyed want their banks to recommend products or services to proactively meet their financial needs. Among those interested in these services, 55per cent say that it would enormously increase their loyalty to their bank. The organisations require a central repository of customer information and interaction histories and agents to lead these conversations to achieve the proactive recommendations.
This modernisation is not only beneficial for the organisations, but consumers also stand to gain enormously. Customers will not have to wait long before getting the chance to speak to agents as the successful deployment of conversational bots will bring down the call volume. While customers wait in line, conversational bots can complete customer verification, ask query details, perform Customer 360 analysis and retrieve interaction histories of the customer. These will help the agents to maximise the first-call resolution. Also, as call centre agents are relieved from supporting simpler, low-impact queries, they can provide the customers with empathetic, higher-quality interactions when they speak with agents.
While the modernised call centre as an idea may seem overwhelming, we can develop secure, cost-effective infrastructures to accommodate this without a massive capital expenditure due to the pay-as-you-go cloud deployment models. Major cloud providers have also brought in APIs that further bolster the adoption of intelligent chatbots and voice assistant bots. These technologies ensure that customer interaction data is stored in a structured manner, further helping banks and financial firms accurately assess customer behaviour to improve processes across the value chain.
To meet the challenges of this new normal and to support customers in using digital services, financial institutions must modernise contact centres and make them reliable and scalable. With the right technology, infrastructure, and trained agents, modernised contact centres will deliver superior customer experience, gain and retain customers and help financial firms stand out in an extremely competitive environment in the industry.
For more information, please visit quantiphi.com
by Bhaskar Kalita, Global Head - Financial Services and Insurance, Quantiphi, Inc.
Image provided by Quantiphi
Communications service providers are opening service innovation floodgates
When was the last time you talked to your service provider? If it’s been a while, it might be time to check in. Over the past few years, the world’s leading communication service providers (CSPs) have been modernising their networks – from the core to the edge – to reimagine their businesses. And it’s all in the service of one goal: bringing life-changing new applications and services to enterprises and consumers.
Today’s CSP is much more than just a connectivity provider. They’re a sophisticated IT partner that uses the latest cloud architectures and IT software models to deliver digital capabilities businesses can’t get anywhere else: ultra-low-latency edge services to power augmented reality, telemedicine, smart factories, mass-scale secure access service edge solutions, and private 5G and LTE networks. And that’s just the beginning.
There’s a common theme behind these innovations, and it goes deeper than the expanded flexibility and agility of modern CSP networks: openness. For the first time, operators have embraced open architectures and ecosystems, so they can engage with partners and customers in new ways. Today, CSPs can mix and match best-of-breed network functions to give enterprises more customisation and choice. They can unify resources from multiple public cloud providers within a single, consistent framework. They can partner with leading application providers to use their unique network and edge capabilities in new ways and jointly create new possibilities for businesses.
The best part: this transformation isn’t something you have to wait for. It’s happening right now, all over the world. Following are just a few examples:
BT: building an open and flexible core
BT – one of the world’s biggest providers of fixed and mobile services – is using open ecosystems to reimagine its core network. BT can now assemble best-of-breed networking and security services from multiple vendors, package them within a single offering and deliver them as a fully managed service – practically anywhere, on demand.
These capabilities are fuelled by an open, flexible core network and a dynamic ecosystem of third-party network function providers building solutions. BT can mix and match more than 200 third-party network functions that have been prequalified for its network to create tailored enterprise offerings. And, through partnerships with 225 ISPs worldwide, they can distribute those next-generation services anywhere.
Bottom line: BT can give enterprises more choice and flexibility to create positive business outcomes. By working with best-of-breed providers across multiple technology areas, they can jointly bring to market innovative, exciting new concepts and differentiated customer experiences. And they can do all of it on an open, flexible, cloud-based digital platform. BT’s enterprise customers gain a choice of management, commercial flexibility, and the ability to link their systems directly into BT in powerful hybrid cloud architectures that they can control.
NTT DOCOMO: unlocking massive scale at the edge with Open RAN
Operators around the globe are opening up their radio access networks (RAN) to enable more choice and flexibility and more efficiently handle the huge increase in radio traffic that comes with 5G. At the top of the list for Open RAN (O-RAN) innovation is NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s premier mobile carrier.
NTT has not just opened up its own environment to third-party RAN vendors and open radio interfaces. Its created the 5G Open RAN Ecosystem, where network vendors, third-party solution providers, enterprises and even other operators can test and validate new Open RAN technologies.
With the lab initiative, NTT is demonstrating the viability of open, disaggregated radio networks in a test bed that mirrors one of the world’s most demanding environments: the Tokyo metropolitan airport region. NTT is now working with other service providers – including smaller operators, who could never create this kind of test environment on their own – to validate new multi-vendor RAN solutions.
Through this effort, NTT is accelerating the development of new enterprise solutions that will capitalise on the huge improvements in capacity, performance and latencies that come with tomorrow’s 5G RAN to empower a new breed of consumer and enterprise services.
Telefonica: bringing fluid, flexible edge services to enterprises
In Spain, one of the world’s largest multinational mobile network operators, Telefonica, is reinventing the edge. It transformed its global networks to employ open, cloud-native, disaggregated network components. As a result, it now runs a modular, multi-vendor, software-defined architecture to deliver customisable fixed-line and mobile offerings to enterprise customers.
For example, Telefonica can combine fixed and mobile connectivity, SD-WAN, and web and endpoint security into a single offering, using whichever vendors their customers prefer. At the same time, because these services are based on modular, cloud-native components, enterprises can manage and control them using the same IT tools and processes they use in other parts of their business.
That’s just the beginning. Telefonica is currently deploying new cloud-native edge nodes across its footprint and shifting to open, standards-based O-RAN that will bring powerful new real-time processing capabilities to the edge. Initially, enterprises can take advantage of Telefonica’s own edge cloud services. But those new edge nodes also provide an ideal starting point to deploy external workloads.
In the next few years, businesses will begin consuming next-generation enterprise services that take advantage of Telefonica’s edge computing and 5G capabilities over both public and private networks. Telefonica is already partnering with third-party application providers and enterprises to co-create high-value use cases in areas like augmented reality for tourism, using digital twin applications to optimise manufacturing via real-time models of smart factories, industrial traffic management and many others.
The future is bright – and wide open
After years of CSP transformations, it’s exciting to see the results making it to market and changing the way people work, live and play. The next step in the transformation, the part we’ll most excited about at VMware, is when nearly all of the network is multi-cloud, multi-vendor and cloud-native. It will connect and enable people, companies and machines in new ways that were never possible before.
by Stephen Spellicy is VP Product Marketing and Solutions at VMware
Improving both sides of the digital banking experience
Customer happiness is essential to the livelihood of banks and other financial institutions (FIs). So is employee satisfaction, because an engaged workplace helps attract and retain top talent who can deliver on customer needs. But in the back offices of many organisations, the drive to improve both customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) can create competing priorities. The issue is mundane manual work: improving speed and quality for the customer can mean employees having to execute more rote keystroke and mouse-click tasks through aging core systems and troves of documents. Inversely, softening demands on processing times for employees can mean moving away from customers’ real-time expectations.
Is it possible to improve the experience on both sides of the screen to create happier customers and more engaged employees? Absolutely. Intelligent automation provides an opportunity to enhance both CX and EX by supporting digital customer interfaces with a more digital delivery of customer services.
CX must be more than a digital façade
Financial institutions invest in digital customer experiences for many reasons, but perhaps none are more important than attracting and retaining satisfied customers. Online portals, mobile apps and chatbots, for example, all make the bank easier to do business with – or at least that is the intention!
Many customer lifecycle management (CLM) interactions, including the initial account opening, involve a lot of documentation that has been difficult for banks to process digitally, because of variations in the format of the data. While it’s straightforward to receive a document upload or email, understanding and acting on them can be a different story. And every second the customer waits for their request to be fulfilled cuts into their expectation of an instantaneous experience.
Intelligent automation allows FIs to transform a digital façade into a truly digital experience. Rather than rely on manual delivery for 50 to 75 per cent of all CLM activities, as is common in the market, automation streamlines the work of the team, resulting in faster throughput and increased accuracy with stronger compliance.
As fintechs and disruptors offer consumers entirely new ways to meet their banking needs, customers look to their FIs to combine credibility and expertise with speed and ease of use. Automation can be that bridge, but it can also offer distinct additional benefits for the organisation.
Poor EX is costly and risky
Back-office teams helping deliver customer service are vital to the organisation, but unfortunately they are often tasked with mundane activities such as data collection, document handling and false-positive clearing, which impede engagement.
The issue is not just that the EX is poor but that it creates significant hidden costs and risk to the organization. Mind-numbing work demoralises employees and increases the risk of errors, leading management to add layers of quality control (QC). In addition, many of these back-office teams require months of onboarding for each analyst to truly achieve reliable performance, which is then, too often, followed by a disheartened departure a few months later. That means frequent hiring and onboarding costs. Further, this revolving door of personnel then requires its own solution, such as proactive over-staffing or reactive hiring of expensive contractors.
Intelligent automation provides an opportunity to transform the work, delegating over 50 per cent of the mundane work and small decisions to automation and letting analysts focus on tasks where their cognitive powers are most useful.
Examples of improving CX and EX through automation
Across several areas of the bank, intelligent automation helps create better CX with more engaging EX. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
With know your customer (KYC) document handling, banks ask existing and prospective customers to provide documents such as articles of incorporation, annual reports and business licences. They upload, then they wait. And wait some more.
For the customer, it seems like this should just be a quick review; they’re far from the first customer to provide this type of data. But it may take days or even weeks to complete. Why? Because operational teams in the background are opening documents and reconciling and entering data into various systems – manually. The team is getting through their work queues as fast as they can, but it’s slower than the customer expects, with more quality issues than anyone would like to admit.
Intelligent automation simplifies KYC document handling to collect and validate relevant data points from various sources and formats, streamlining work for employees. Analysts still provide review, but with 60 to 80 per cent less manual effort, they can focus on assisting the automation and reducing the number of re-requests going back to the customer for more information. All of which expedites turnaround time, pleasing customers.
In treasury management, customer email inquiries are common. Customers send requests to adjust authorised signers or changing addresses, for example, which to them seem straightforward. But they often sit waiting because fulfillment isn’t instant: those emails trigger manual work. There is often time lost routing the task, but, maybe more importantly, the work is not as quick as it may seem. An address change may take all day to update in five different (aging and finicky) systems. The customer expects near-instant acknowledgement, but the team racing in the background seems to never finish the work fast enough.
Intelligent automation helps streamline these email inquiries: automation tries to fulfill the request immediately, escalating to the team only when necessary. This typically saves over 75 per cent of the resolution time, and the bank’s employees can focus on other areas of customer service, not just managing inboxes.
Intelligent automation drives better CX and more engaging EX
KYC document handling and treasury management email inquiries are two of many examples of how intelligent automation improves banking. Industry-wide, AI and automation work to create happier customers and more engaged employees, a key win-win powering our screen-heavy digital age.
by Andy Bethurum, Head of Banking, Kirill Meleshevich, Head of AML and Kyle Hoback, Director of Intelligent Automation at WorkFusion
To find out more, see:
Images provided by WorkFusion
Work reimagined: intelligent automation is key to improving business performance
Long before Covid-19, scaling businesses and enterprises faced common challenges such as lagging productivity, increased customer expectations and the complexities of business transformation. Then the pandemic hit and delivered an abrupt end to “business as usual”. Organisations were forced into dramatic operational transformation and to rethink customer and supplier engagement. Transformation became not just about improving business performance but also about surviving in a new climate of uncertainty.
The pandemic highlighted flaws, but it also showed how digital agility can help overcome the hardest challenges. You only have to look at how the NHS leveraged intelligent automation to roll out one of the fastest vaccination programmes in the world to see the true benefits of digital transformation.
With intelligent automation proven and available to every business leader, it’s time to use this technology to strategically and significantly improve overall business performance. In fact, research suggests that companies that invested heavily in intelligent automation in the years prior to the pandemic were able to improve their operations and business performance exponentially. Without strategic investment in automation and a clear digitalisation roadmap, businesses’ competitiveness will inevitably degrade over the next five years as the gap widens with those who have embraced it.
Automation programmes succeed best when executed within a strategic context. Simply aiming for tactical efficiency gains is not enough and can limit overall performance. Companies who invest strategically in smart technologies deliver value best when planning automation holistically across the organization. It should be focused on clear, well-defined value creation via productivity, employee engagement, better customer experience, cost savings, competitive edge or other specific values tied directly to core strategic initiatives.
A digital workforce of software robots
Blue Prism is pioneering enterprise-scale automation that will see a much larger adoption of automation across organisations, evolving from single digital worker process-focused robotic process automation (RPA) to organisational scale automation via a digital workforce, AI-infused and fully integrated with human workers. This vision of the future workforce – a seamless blend of human and digital workers – is here with us now and brings with it the ability to execute automation programmes at scale to drive competitiveness, increase productivity, improve customer experience, and work smarter and faster while encouraging growth, agility and creativity.
Choosing the right digital workers to populate your digital workforce is key to achieving the optimum level of improved business performance. However, not all software robots are created equal. Businesses need to choose wisely as the wrong automation platform can significantly limit the amount of value gained. Blue Prism encourages businesses to choose a platform designed for enterprise-scale automation operations in terms of security, robustness and access to a wide and deep ecosystem of companion technologies.
Blue Prism’s digital workers are a dependable choice for building digital workforces for enterprise-scale transformations. They have a long-proven track record in larger-scale automation and digital transformation programmes in major organisations, including those in complex and sensitive industries such as financial services, healthcare and mobile communications. Enriched with the latest artificial intelligence (cognitive technologies that act as the eyes, ears, voices and brains needed for complex tasks), these capabilities add serious power to a Blue Prism digital workforce.
Digital workforces deliver strategic value
Implementing intelligent automation via a digital workforce platform has enabled organisations to use digital workers to scale according to changes in demand, putting them ahead of their competitors and enabling them to focus precious human resources where they are needed most.
A major bank, for example, was able to revolutionise its trade finance operations via a digital workforce, reducing the wait time for trade finance by 94 per cent and giving the bank a major comparative advantage over its competitors. What at first glance looks like an efficiency play is actually a strategic business competitiveness improver. Multiply that across departments and you’re talking about true digital transformation.
In healthcare, the outcomes from digital workforces have been critical in some of the most demanding areas of the health system, including equipment supply, recruitment, vaccine management and more. Having intelligent automation that operates seamlessly with existing systems and human employees is helping save lives by freeing up human and other resources to focus on patient care as opposed to administration.
Achieve company-wide buy-in
Investment is not the only issue; senior management must prioritise and align their automation strategies.
Automating current processes piecemeal will not deliver considerable, enterprise-wide improvement of business performance. Leaders must take a step back and redesign with a blank slate, as true transformation comes from revolutionising operations holistically, not just improving isolated elements of existing ones.
For senior management, automation shouldn’t just be about cost and efficiency improvements (although these quick wins are important). Instead, they should approach intelligent automation with their eyes on the bigger prize: reimagining their operating models with a digital-first approach in alignment with and as an enabler of core strategic initiatives.
It is imperative then that companies choose a vendor that can facilitate change at scale, right across the enterprise. It’s only when businesses approach with this strategic mindset that they can improve their business performance on a profound scale.
The time is now
As we look to the future to build resilience and success post-pandemic, leaders must frame the benefits of intelligent automation at a big-picture level with an eye to achieving new levels of business performance through digital workforces: workforces that combine automation directly in cooperation with human workers.
With intelligent automation, every facet and department of an organisation can realise improvements with much lower capital investment than traditional digitisation approaches. The potential for intelligent automation is vast and well past the early adoption stage. Yet an enormous amount of business value has yet to be discovered. Digital workforces are the new strategic tool for vastly improved business performance.
To find out how to get there, businesses need only to begin their intelligent automation transformation.
by Eric Tyree, Head of Research & AI, Blue Prism
Navigating a new digital era means changing the world economic order
Covid-19 has accelerated the growth in the digital economy through a dramatic increase in working from home, online shopping, digital entertainment, online services, among other areas. Ideas such as telemigration in which people from different parts of the world work in virtual offices might once have sounded outrageous. Today, many are already working from home through video streaming.
A completely virtual future is perhaps unlikely, but such shifts are a fundamental challenge to how we organise societies. Laws and regulations governing trade, taxation, labour, and social security, among other areas, are largely based on geographically-defined states that contain and regulate our economic and social activities.
This applies to the global economic order which consists of agreements between states to manage interactions between them. For example, an international regime regulates services based on how the service is supplied, in turn determined by where the buyer and seller are. For trade in goods, borders are used to implement rules such as tariffs and standards.
In taxation, the shift from physical to digital has resulted in a major challenge to taxation law. Similarly, living in one country and working in another remains a bureaucratic challenge even in some of the most integrated economies in the world.
Over recent years, there have been debates on how to deal with these changes amid ongoing technological shifts. At a fundamental level, we face two options. Is the task facing us is how we adapt our existing rules and regulations to accommodate these new technologies? Or do we need to think of completely new modes of regulations that govern our economic and social relations in a new technological age?
So far, the focus has been on the former. In trade, for example, discussions have focused, often with little success, on issues such as deciding if data flows are trade, how we impose tariffs on goods that are traded electronically, or whether an e-book is a good or a service.
Alternatively, we might want to think of the ongoing technological shift as a start of an entirely new world. A world that needs a radical rethink and new laws and regulations that accommodate the new technological era. But what would that look like?
A digital Bretton Woods
Some commentators have called for a “digital Bretton Woods” conference to set out a new regime of global governance for the digital age, including discussion on the governance of artificial intelligence, data, tax arbitrage by multinational corporations, and international standards to measure the digital and intangible economy. James Balsillie, co-founder of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, called for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to catalyse a new Bretton Woods moment “to address these new global realities as a result of unprecedented digital forces shaping our world”.
Bretton Woods was the meeting of 44 states that took place in 1944 to discuss a new economic order for the post-war period. It resulted in the creation of the World Bank and the IMF and a proposal for an International Trade Organisation.
Among different visions for the world economy, the outcome of Bretton Woods was a compromise between the demands for full economic liberalisation by some in the US and opposition from other countries. John Ruggie, professor of human rights and international affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, called this compromise embedded liberalism. It was an international order that maintained a degree of global harmonisation that limited destructive competition between states but which allowed them to also pursue objectives related to employment and industry.
The Bretton Woods compromise and the relatively weak restrictions imposed by the international economic order for parts of the 20th century enabled some developing countries at the time, such as Korea and Singapore, to pursue trade and industrial policies to promote their economic and technological development. Over time, however, and through multiple channels, the balance in the global economic order titled towards global harmonisation.
Major powers, including the US and the EU, promoted stricter rules in areas including trade, investments, and intellectual property rights. This trend has resulted in a shrinking of policy space for developing countries making it harder for them to pursue developmental policies.
A compromise for the digital era?
Current discussions on the governance of the digital economy resemble these earlier debates. The US, as the world’s digital economy leader, has pursued a campaign to remove barriers facing digital trade by promoting objectives such as free flow of data.
However, a number of developing and emerging economies such as South Africa, India and Indonesia, strongly resist this push, fearing its impact on national economies. As a result, there is now an impasse at the modern World Trade Organisation and a shift toward addressing these issues through plurilateral, regional, and bilateral avenues.
We now face two extreme outcomes: advanced economies overcome this resistance and create strong rules on the digital economy, leading to a highly restrictive digital economic order that limits the economic and technological development of some countries and deepens the technological gap between the developed and developing world.
Or, a failure to reach any multilateral rules on the digital economy means the faster growing parts of the global economy remain outside the multilateral economic regime, driving fragmentation as states pursue their interests through other avenues.
While the existing multilateral order is highly flawed and biased against developing countries, fragmentation isn’t necessarily in the interest of these countries as the power imbalances in regional and bilateral relations are often more skewed toward the powerful nations. This scenario also undermines the globally-open nature of the internet, which brought benefits such as access to information, communications, and general freedoms.
Avoiding these two outcomes requires international efforts. A digital Bretton Woods could tackle some of these challenges and help shape thinking about the future of economic governance in the digital age. But we need to do more than just gather state representatives. We first need a broader discussion of how to regulate economic and social activities in the digital era. We also need to understand how the restrictive international order of recent decades has limited the ability of developing countries to promote development and how any new digital economic regime can avoid a similar outcome.
The future of communication surveillance: moving beyond lexicons
Communication surveillance involves the collection, monitoring, review and preservation of information that has been communicated across various internal and external channels within a regulated organisation. In highly regulated industries, compliance teams are often legally obligated to monitor their employees to ensure they don’t violate laws around insider trading, market abuse, money laundering, or any of dozens of forms of potential misconduct. Technology to monitor communication has become core to streamlining these once manual processes, but the most common solutions are often ineffective.
Lexicons are just the beginning
Technology that is used for surveillance traditionally uses lexicon triggered alerts to define the set of communications that require a review by a compliance analyst. Lexicons are words and phrases that are pre-determined to help reviewers seek out specific violations. For example, the word “guarantee” might indicate a registered representative making an inappropriate promise, or the word “confidential” might reveal insider dealing. Many firms use lexicons in their surveillance strategy because it’s simple and easy to defend.
While monitoring lexicons can be simple, there are challenges including high alert volume, false positives, alerts on irrelevant content such as disclaimers, and duplicative content. Additionally, a lexicon-only approach is point-in-time, so evolving behaviours could be missed. Metadata and advanced technologies can make a world of difference as they help to create better rules for a more accurate and efficient process.
Metadata fills in the gaps
While monitoring for lexicons is a great start for surveillance and compliance teams, applying metadata is crucial. Metadata is a set of data that describes and gives information about other data (i.e., context and background information). In surveillance, it’s context around a communication: who the participants are (such as their role, department or geography), the file type, the time of day the communication was sent, whether a message was inbound or outbound, and even the language spoken during the communication exchange.
To determine if collusion is occurring, helpful metadata might show how many participants were involved in the conversation, as collusive behaviour most often happens in small groups. Rules should only apply to the populations that are at risk for that specific behaviour, so for this instance, rules around the sharing of inside information should be targeting individuals with potential access to inside information. Another example of a red flag is changing venues of communication. Intentionally moving an inappropriate conversation away from a recorded channel is an indicator of risk. A client may say to a trader, “Let’s chat about this over drinks.” Fortunately, that conversation started in a recorded channel, which sets off an alert for further investigation. Getting more granular with metadata filtering will make the surveillance process more effective and efficient.
When lexicons and metadata aren’t enough
Advanced technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and pre-trained models can better detect misconduct and pinpoint the types of risk that a business cares about. AI and ML should work alongside metadata filtering and lexicon alerting to remove irrelevant data and classify communications. In pinpointing risk, AI and ML can help to:
There is often an assumption that massive adoption of AI will automate the job of a human reviewer. That’s not true. AI and ML supplement compliance review teams and help them focus on more relevant communications and remove obvious junk from their review queue. The technology can transform the role from reviewing hundreds of alerts per hour to one that is more investigatory in nature. Financial institutions will benefit from adopting these technologies as they can eliminate some of the manual and monotonous work so employees can focus on the more meaningful aspects of their roles, such as stopping insider trading or collusion before it happens.
Take the next step
Surveillance technology that incorporates metadata and AI is already necessary to meet growing data volumes and an evolving regulatory landscape.When a company re-evaluates its surveillance strategy as regulations evolve, it’s crucial that the industry moves beyond lexicons and shifts to an AI-first platform to be the most effective.
If you’re interested in building an AI-based surveillance strategy to better identify risk, remove duplicative data and reduce false-positive alerts, check out Relativity Trace ebook, 3 Steps to Building an AI-based Surveillance Strategy.
The impact of the digital economy on business strategies
The digital economy is changing our industry’s ecosystem. In order to guarantee future growth, companies must evolve through digital transformation.
Over the last few years the digital economy and digital transformation have been referenced in the media and are key themes of discussions for companies. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 per cent of global GDP will be digitalised by 2022. However, there is a significant potential of growth since 50 per cent of the world’s population is not currently active in the digital economy. 
Companies willing to respond to these future consumers’ needs while staying competitive must adapt their business processes and strategies by going through a digital transformation.
Definition of digital economy and digital transformation
What do we mean by digital economy and digital transformation? The digital economy defines an economy mainly based on new digital technologies, in order to generate business. Digital transformation covers the process to incorporate digital technology in company business models, which will help to trigger digital economy growth.
Measuring the impact of the digital economy
In order to understand the impact of the digital economy, many organisations have developed tools to help measuring its growth and boost entrepreneurship. For example, since 2014, the OECD has been publishing guidelines and recommendations to boost innovation, entrepreneurship and digital economy growth.
• Action 1: make the digital economy visible in economic statistics
• Action 2: understand the economic impact of digital transformation (labour, capital, knowledge)
• Action 3: encourage measurement of digital transformation’s impact on social goals and people’s wellbeing.
• Action 4: design new and interdisciplinary approaches to data collection
• Action 5: monitor technologies underpinning digital transformation: IOT, blockchain, AI
• Action 6: improve the measurement of data and dataflows
• Action 7: define and measure skills needs for digital transformation
• Action 8: measure trust in online environments
• Action 9: establish impact assessment frameworks for digital government
The World Bank has established a Digital Entrepreneurship Scorecard, a diagnostic tool that helps assess the evolution of the digital market. These recommendations focus on boosting entrepreneurship, promoting innovation, and investing in research .
General Impact on companies’ business strategy
But what does this mean for company leaders, how can they adapt their business strategies to trigger a digital transformation, and how will they know which technologies to adopt? Blockchain, the internet of things and AI are the key technologies highlighted in digital transformation.
According to the OECD, in the UK, AI-related companies are focusing mainly on fields such as deep learning, language processing, image recognition and robotics .
Regarding the adoption of digital transformation, the World Economic Forum emphasised that it is important to identify the triggers, or “enablers”, which come in four categories:
• Data and analytics/systems and technology
• Operating model and partnerships/talent and culture
Once the business strategy has been established, it is crucial to understand the impact of the digital transformation on our industry.
For example, the Bank of England’s Future of Finance report, published in June 2019, clearly shows what banks will need to focus on, in order to “serve the digital economy” . This includes focusing on payment systems, innovation such as AI, big data and machine learning, and on standards and protocols.
What are the key recommendations for business leaders? From a practical side, the following framework can help business leaders to drive this strategic change.
The World Economic Forum suggests asking the questions illustrated below when:
• Establishing the digital strategy
• Defining the business model
• Identifying the enablers for the transformation
• Finally, how to complete through the orchestration phase
In summary, the digital economy, driven by customer requirements and behaviour, is significantly transforming industries. Company business processes and strategies must be able to support this growth, which is estimated in the trillions of dollars. Another aspect which should not be forgotten is to ensure that employees are guided and supported and that the impact of the transformation on company culture is evaluated.
by Nadia Abouayoub FRSA, Strategist, IET Expert Digital Panel member, BCS AI Specialist group Committee Member
Agile companies learn from success, no matter where it comes from
Lloyd Keaser, a US Naval Academy graduate, won a silver medal in wrestling at the 1976 Olympics. That was a tremendous accomplishment, but the story of how it happened is truly extraordinary. While competing at the Olympic trials, a young fan came up to Keaser and told him that he was not tucking his elbows against his sides while in his neutral position. Wrestlers at any level know “untucked elbows” leaves a wrestler vulnerable. Keaser could have ignored the fan – he was an Olympian, after all, and the fan was just some kid – but he took the advice to heart. He corrected the problem, won his match, made the Olympic team, and represented his country.
Very few corporate leaders are trying to make the US Olympic wrestling team, but every C-suite in America can learn from Lloyd Keaser. Good advice is good advice, no matter the source. Winners listen. If an Olympian is willing to keep his ears open, your company must be willing to, too.
Over the last year, digital product teams (from designers to engineers, developers and project managers) have had some of the best results in the corporate world. It is time the rest of the corporate infrastructure – from accounting and legal to marketing and strategic planning – learns from product teams’ approach to collaboration, problem solving and anticipating what’s next. As we finally exit this painful pandemic and companies regain their footing, they should learn from how product teams helped keep corporations afloat.
That product teams have been critical to corporate profit and revenue is an understatement. From an economic perspective, the Covid-19 pandemic will be remembered as the time when “digital transformation” went from concept to reality, and mostly not by choice. The numbers alone are staggering. Consumers spent $861 billion online with US retailers in 2020, a 40 per cetn increase over 2019. Retailers that maintained a physical presence still relied on digital sales, as the percentage of retailers offering kerbside pickup grew by over 600 per cent. The online food delivery market grew to over $151 billion, with over 1.3 billion regular users. More than 130 million of them started using the service in 2020.
Behind all those dollars, behind each purchase and each satisfied customer, was an app or a website. And behind each app and each website was a digital product team, deftly understanding exactly what their customers wanted and how to build it for them. At a time when brick-and-mortar sales were flat and e-commerce drove almost all corporate growth, it is not a stretch to say product teams were instrumental in keeping their companies afloat.
So, what should agile companies learn from their digital product teams?
First and foremost, product teams managed to foster innovation, even as they worked remotely. They went into the pandemic comfortable with a suite of collaboration tools, from online whiteboards to prototyping, that allowed everyone to get their best ideas in front of their coworkers, even if they weren’t there to present them personally. They also understood that innovation is not just an unformed brainstorm. Rather, innovation comes from bringing a diverse set of ideas into a space that can absorb them, allow them to take root, and allow collective intelligence to help them grow towards company objectives. That way, product teams don’t waste time on “brilliant” ideas that are not technically feasible or creating digital products that do not square with market demands. These well-honed processes never required in-person interaction; as corporations move towards hybrid work, or even remain all-remote, in the wake of the pandemic, they should adopt this same approach to innovation.
Second, product teams are committed to rigorous research, and rely on what researchers have told them throughout the process. They do not believe their judgment should be a substitute for what consumers have told them they want or need. During the pandemic, when so many existing business practices were rendered impossible, this grounding in consumer need and hard data, rather than personal impulse and experience, was essential.
Finally, product teams truly empathise with customers. They put themselves in their customers’ shoes and understand what their customers’ experience. That helps them develop products that are useful for right now, but it also helps them anticipate what customers will want next. That’s how product teams built apps for restaurants that didn’t just allow for mobile ordering or kerbside pickup, but empowered far greater consumer customisation. That’s how retail apps started gamifying purchases from their stores.
That’s why so much of the digital transformation in consumer behaviour from the pandemic will last so long into the future.
Agile, successful companies learn from what’s working, and they learn quickly. At a time when market opportunities open in days and shut almost as fast, “we’ve always done it this way” thinking – or, worse yet, “we can’t learn from them because they do things differently” thinking – can be fatal. In the post-Covid economy, every large company will have to be digital first, making it all the more important to learn from the teams that have thrived in the digital sphere.
So, let’s see legal teams “huddled” around a digital whiteboard. Let’s see HR engage in structured, directed brainstorming. Let’s see marketing reflexively referring to research. Let’s see your accounting team putting themselves in the shoes of company employees and investors. That’s what a company prepared for a digital first future looks like.
Ultimately, it’s simple: if an Olympic wrestler can learn from a kid before one of the most important matches of his life, your C-suite can learn from the product teams that powered them through the pandemic.
Companies must adopt best practices from teams that thrived during the pandemic.
Images provided by InVision
Contented customer service agents mean delighted customers
The pandemic has changed much about how we work today, from what we think of as important, to where we work, and how we get the job done. Businesses have needed great flexibility when responding to these changes.
An important part of this has involved re-evaluating customer experience (CX) strategies. And the most successful companies are recognizing that, to get CX right, you also need to focus on customer service agents, because they are a pivotal component of CX.
There is a very close relationship between the agent’s experience and the customer’s experience. Agent experience (AX) is the sum of all interactions an agent has with their organisation, and it can significantly impact business performance. Companies that treat their agents well and provide them with a supportive environment will have more satisfied customers and deliver better business outcomes.
This is because agents who have a good experience during their working day, and who feel good about their employer, will interact far better with the customers they serve. This in turn drives improved customer outcomes. Conversions and basket sizes are increased, while loyalty and advocacy are strengthened.
Optimising the customer service agent’s experience
Customers can often solve simple problems through self-service options. But to resolve more difficult issues, they will normally turn to a CX agent. And when this happens, the mindset of those agents is critical.
So what can businesses do to ensure that their agents are working in an optimal environment? Enablers that help agents succeed at work include: their physical environment; a healthy work culture with the opportunity for informal social connections; and sufficient autonomy, with agents given choice and control over when and how to work. In addition, the right digital environment with supportive tools and technology is essential.
Support through technology
Digital capabilities can greatly improve agent engagement, motivation and learning. Techniques that should be considered include:
While implementing these and other techniques, businesses need to think carefully about the agent’s user experience (UX) while using any digital tools. User interface (UI) design is crucial for AX as it facilitates agent access to data and reporting tools that is simple and to the point.
Supporting agents in a work-from-home setting
As organisations review their CX strategies following the pandemic, the work from home (WFH) model will play a key role.
Increasingly, people are accustomed to the new work environment and collaboration processes that result from working remotely. While there are many benefits to the WFH model, both for businesses in terms of cost and efficiency, and for workers in terms of comfort and flexibility, there are also many factors that need to be considered if the change is to be beneficial for all parties.
Managing agent performance
While there are many steps organisations can take to bolster the effectiveness of their customer service agents by improving their work environment, it is also necessary for managers to monitor the effectiveness of these measures, not least so that initiatives that are causing agents frustration can be identified and addressed.
Monitoring must be done sensitively, with agents aware of what monitoring takes place and with monitoring limited so that agent privacy is not infringed. For instance (depending on local privacy regulations), it may be acceptable to record whether someone is using social media at work. But it is unlikely to be permissible to record the details of the conversations that take place on social media.
Onboarding too will be different, as will ongoing management. Performance management and training practices must be in place to minimise any disparity between brick-and-mortar and WFH agents’ experience, as otherwise inefficiencies, and indeed accusations of discrimination, may occur.
The effectiveness of customer service agents is crucial to most organisations. Companies that actively build an optimised agent experience and an organisational culture that supports this will find that their engaged and motivated customer agents are a highly effective component of driving long-term growth and profitability.
IGT provides integrated BPM, technology, and digital services that simplify complex customer interactions. To learn more about the importance of agent experience, read Everest Research’s viewpoint in Delivering Superior Experiences
A world beyond the walls: how brands can sow success beyond the closed gardens of online advertising
If you were looking to flog some old picture frames, kids’ toys or books from your house, which car-boot sale would you choose? The one with 100 visitors or the one with 1,000?
But what if you had the choice to be at both at the same time and reach everyone who was there?
In the advertising world, many marketers don’t believe this is possible and they handicap their efforts by focusing on the smaller audiences of walled garden systems rather than opening themselves out to bigger audiences elsewhere.
There is a risk this trend could accelerate, with 2022 bringing a seismic shift in the online ad space.
The biggest walled gardens out there – Facebook, Amazon and Google – are visited by millions of users multiple times each day: an understandably attractive prospect to marketers. But there is, of course, a catch; only 34 per cent of all consumers’ online time is spent in those gardens – the open internet is visited for almost twice as long.
What’s more, this limits the ROI that any marketer can expect from their campaigns. Yes, you may make multiple sales conversions, but you miss out on all the extra data that comes with this. Marketers, sadly, do not know their customers any better after the campaign than they did before it – nor do they know what they bought where and when.
30 per cent of UK marketers say there has been an overdependence on walled gardens and 38 per cent say their campaigns do not always target the right people. Yes, the sheer volume of users within the walled gardens may make them a necessary part of any outreach strategy, but they are confining.
The solution lies not just within the gardens but beyond them too. The ad landscape breaches these gated grounds, out towards an open internet – a more diversified and more encompassing space that complements the garden approach.
It is time for brands to consider a rebalance.
A marketer’s frenemy?
Advertising through walled gardens has been a popular option for many years. But it’s something of an open secret that many marketers have mixed feelings about them.
The big issue is that the balance is off. There is a disparity between where people spend their time online and where advertisers focus their money. At present, the open internet – outside walled gardens – accounts for 66 per cent of time spent online, but it only attracts 37 per cent of ad spend.
What’s more, change is afoot that could leave advertisers even more dependent on these closed spaces, namely the removal of third-party cookies, as Google phases out the technology over the next year and Apple abolishes IDFA.
The parallel push for privacy
This will, of course, have an impact on data retention and privacy for many advertisers and marketers.
The latter is the central element to any digital strategy at the moment, which is driving the industry to a user-centric and privacy-centric approach. With Google abolishing cookies and Apple implementing its App Tracking Transparency (ATT), this is a good opportunity for the industry to take stock, refocus and innovate with consumers in mind.
And for the consumers themselves, it’s also about how they see their data. When it comes to the personal data held by businesses, people increasingly expect transparency, control and, above all, choice. But they don’t want to have to decide differently for each platform. A simple, unified approach – akin to an interoperable Single Sign-On (SSO) system – to manage consent is going to be essential.
The alternative: contextual targeting
Let’s go back to our car-boot sales analogy again; advertisers can be at both if they really wanted to. But they’ll also need the right number of tables and tools to help drive those sales.
For online advertisers and marketers, this is where advanced contextual targeting will be one of the true heroes of the open internet, bringing brands closer to their customers. Contextual targeting matches all the different sites with those advertisers and products that most likely work best there.
A huge advantage of this approach is that you’re reaching an audience that’s already interested in what you’re offering. The value exchange is clear to the reader, and the ads feel natural and less disruptive – protecting the user experience and avoiding the growing concerns associated with privacy.
But this isn’t contextual targeting as we know it. Now, this technology can connect first-party commerce data with real-time contextual signals for the first time ever, paving the way for marketers to drive and measure incremental revenue in a post-cookie world.
69 per cent of consumers are more likely to engage with contextual ads – and with new solutions that offer better, more personalised experiences, this number will almost certainly increase.
Beyond the walls
Walled gardens can – and should – be a critical part of the marketing mix. But right now, the balance with the open internet simply isn’t right or smart.
It’s time for businesses to consider diversifying their ad spend, using new technologies to meet consumers where they already are. At the same time, this method respects data privacy and offers a better consumer experience.
Walled gardens offer the golden nugget of a large audience, that’s for sure – but crucially, it’s not the largest. It’s important, therefore, for us all to break out – we need to look beyond the gated greens of Big Tech and into a territory rich with an audience willing to engage with your brand.
To find out more about contextual advertising and using first-party data, visit https://www.criteo.com/products/contextual-targeting.
From cost centre to strategic requirement: how customer experience is driving business transformation
The activities designed to enhance customer experience (CX) used to be seen as an overhead, or a tactical necessity. Do CX well and no one cares; do it badly and there is hell to pay. Within many organisations, contact centres were not always looked at as a strategic investment, and rarely did they ever get intensive scrutiny from the board.
Continuing this path is a mistake, but the tide is changing. Keeping existing customers is far less expensive than acquiring new ones. Developing processes to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction isn’t just the right thing to do, it generates additional profit, as happy customers tend to be more loyal and their lifetime value to your business tends to increase. Instead of being treated as a tedious expense, customer experience management should be seen as an exciting opportunity.
The right technology
An exceptional customer experience doesn’t appear from nowhere, of course. It needs to be supported by the right technology. Organisations planning to deliver excellence in CX need the right data, the right analytics and insights and efficient administrative processes so that customer requests are manged quickly and effectively. Similarly, they also need the right supporting technical infrastructure, so that issues such as security and communications latency are not a problem.
These days, more efficient use of IT – such as hosting in the cloud – allows organisations to focus on the customer journeys that they want to optimise, and not have to worry about maintaining and managing costly infrastructure.
The importance of people – and machines
We all know technology on its own can never deliver great service. Central to excellence in customer experience is having the right people: agents with the right attitude and the right skills, and supervisors who can help balance team burnout and development. Technology, while important, should support people and not replace them.
This means two things. Firstly, dull, repetitive tasks (such as resetting a password or registering an insurance claim) should be completed by self-service or automated processes. With the right technology, tasks can be handled more quickly by an automated system than by a human; the quicker the customer gets their issue resolved, the more likely you will have a satisfied customer.
But for more complex problems, and circumstances where a customer will feel comforted by talking to another person, nothing can replace a well-trained human with the right data at their fingertips. Humans can offer empathy and provide a psychological safety net (the customer knows there is a person on the other end), as well as being better, at least for the foreseeable future, at solving non-routine problems.
The right data
Giving machines and human agents the right data at the right time is key to delivering customer satisfaction. Once a customer’s identity has been authenticated (and this should only need to happen once in any transaction), agents should have a full set of details about them – who they are, what they have bought, any problems they have had previously or any preferences that will make the experience more personalised.
Everyone likes to be recognised. And a friendly contact centre agent who actually knows who the customer is, and perhaps can even predict what they are calling about, will do wonders for customer loyalty and brand advocacy.
Reimagining the customer experience
The days of interactive voice recognition systems that take you, in a wide circle, back to where you started, or switchboards that leave you hanging for what seems like hours, are thankfully fading. Instead, customer experience is being reimagined by many organisations across the world.
By employing a combination of AI, automation and people, organisations can ensure customers are in control and able to resolve problems quickly and easily. For something simple, they are served by a machine. But if their problem needs human intervention, they can talk to a knowledgeable agent who isn’t incentivised to get off the call as quickly as possible in order to save money. Instead, they are incentivised to create value by solving problems and creating customer satisfaction (this leads to a need for companies to rethink their contact centre KPIs).
They can only do this if the contact centre application is context aware. For instance, if a customer has been frustrated trying to use an Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) or chatbot, the system must know this, be prepared to deal with a degree of irritation, and share what has already transpired at hand to the human agent to create a more caring and engaging experience and minimise the risk of the customer’s frustration being amplified.
The power of machine learning
Driving this reimagined customer experience are powerful machine learning (ML) algorithms that can interpret conversational language (rather than demanding the customer “press one to report a fault…”), enabling them to decide whether the caller is best served by a machine or a person in a particular department. And if they get it wrong, as they will sometimes, the system may be more likely to get it right next time – because it learns.
But ML can go further. Like its human counterpart it can detect emotion, which may signal the need for early human intervention in a transaction. Systems can also leverage human logic to contact customers proactively (within the requirements of privacy regulations of course) – for instance, reaching out to reschedule an appointment or to notify a change in delivery date.
Transforming business through customer experience
Call centres are the virtual front door for business, and, like the traditional office reception desk, they must be able to deliver a personalised service for visitors that is context aware, real-time and supported by data. The customer’s time should be respected and they should not be forced to keep on sharing the same information with the system. As far as possible services must be predictive so that customers’ questions are answered before they can be asked. And most importantly they must be practical and efficient at solving customer problems. Technology should augment and enhance the customer experience, not add another hurdle for them to overcome.
With the right technology, people, processes and data powered by practical AI and automation, customer experience can truly be transformed. For most businesses, the battleground isn’t products anymore. It’s the customer experience itself.
Five9 is the leading provider of intelligent cloud contact centre software. With more than 20 years of experience, Five9 matches its expertise in contact centre transformation with skills in AI, automation and analytics. Using its unrivalled library of chatbot tasks, its knowledge of customer experience best practice, its dedicated training services and its ecosystem of partners, Five9 clients around the globe are enabled to create transformed and highly profitable customer experiences.
Customer insights are fuelling the digital economy
Data is the lifeblood of the digital economy. New data-driven technologies are already empowering organisations to optimise their supply chains, design more efficient business processes, create new products or services and more besides.
But for the majority of business leaders who want to maximise the value of their data assets, it’s customer data that has the greatest potential to drive ROI in the coming months and years.
“Our vision is to make our customers’ days a little easier,” says Olof Granberg, Director of Big Data and Advanced Analytics Technology at retail giant ICA Gruppen. “What we then use machine learning and AI for is to help simplify that.”
“Data is giving us insights in all aspects,” agrees Girish Agarwal, Director AI Lab at power tool manufacturer Husqvarna Group. “But my personal feeling is that in order to reap the benefits faster and to the maximum, we should use these technologies to get closer to our customers.”
These views are widely held in the global business community. Data storage company Seagate reports that two-thirds of CEOs will be focusing on digital strategies to improve the customer experience (CX) by the end of 2019.
Forrester research shows that insight-driven businesses are already setting the pace for global economic growth. These “customer obsessed” organisations are growing at an annual rate of more than 30 per cent on average.
What’s more, Gartner predicts that more than 40 per cent of data and analytics projects will relate to CX by 2020.
How customer data is driving enterprise ROI
Of course, you don’t have to look to the future to see the impact data-driven initiatives can have on the company bottom line. Data and analytics leaders at the world’s most forward-thinking companies are already using data to transform how their brands interact with customers.
“Since the advent of these interlinked business models and ecosystems, only those initiatives which are integrated with each other are really giving value back to the customer,” says Agarwal.
“We are going to focus on customer engagement and customer delivery,” he continues. “We’re also looking into something we call marketing customisation, where we give personalised offers to our customers based on exactly their needs.”
Juwel Rana, Head of Analytics at Scandinavian fashion retailer Varner, agrees: “You need to be focusing on your customers’ perspectives. We always serve our customers first.”
While every business is different, most follow a similar template when it comes to optimising experiences for their customers. Customer experience optimisation starts with mapping out the various interactions a customer typically has with a brand when they need to achieve a specific goal. Examples of these customer journeys include making a purchase, using a product, renewing a contract or troubleshooting a problem.
The company must then gather and analyse data about each of the key touchpoints on these journeys to identify where there are opportunities to improve the overall experience.
“If you’re doing things right, you’ll have much happier customers,” says Jose A Murillo, CAO at Mexican financial institution Banorte. “You’ll have lengthier relationships with those customers, which means you’ll be able to create customer equity and good, sustainable profits in the long-term.”
Customer insights top the 2020 data agenda
Direct-to-consumer brand Publishers Clearing House is the perfect example of a business with a customer-centric data strategy.
The company has developed more than 500 algorithms which it uses to personalise and enhance the customer experience. Ash Dhupar, the company’s CAO, says just one of his team’s recommendation algorithms generates 43 per cent of the brand’s e-commerce sales.
“We know a lot about our customers and giving them the most relevant and personalised experience is what we’re after,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of stuff in that area, from using personas to one-to-one marketing.”
He believes that developing more accurate personas for key customer groups will enable Publishers Clearing House to refine the targeting of its digital ad campaigns over the next 12 months.
“For our digital acquisition, we will go and find these people on the site,” he explains. “So, when they come in they will find the most relevant products and we can give them the most relevant experience related to what their lifestyle persona is about.”
This is a top priority for many businesses. Forrester reports that 89 per cent of digital businesses are investing in personalisation – including Coca-Cola, Netflix, USAA, and Wells Fargo.
Other data leaders will focus their efforts on identifying and improving points in key customer journeys where poor experiences are currently damaging customer perceptions of their brand.
Some will even develop completely new data-driven tools, products or services designed to make their customers’ lives easier.
But no matter what approach an organisation decides to take, its success will hinge on how effectively it can harness the power of data to develop better experiences for their customers.
by Solomon Radley, Global Content Strategist, Corinium Intelligence
Background checks present unexpected opportunity for employers seeking competitive advantage
Across the US, competition for talent is heating up as Covid-19 recedes. Companies are striving to entice workers back to on-premises positions and seeking people to help leverage emerging opportunities in a rebounding economy.
Recruitment professionals are busy. Not only are employers staffing up, a majority of the labour force expects to look for new work. This means burgeoning piles of résumés and applications and expanding workloads for HR teams. Heightened attention to diversity and inclusion has also added hiring practice reform to many agendas.
All elements of talent acquisition are up for reconsideration. Forward-looking organisations are aggressively optimising to reduce manual tasks, drive efficiencies and boost hiring success. In fact, many enterprises are finding competitive advantage in an unexpected place – their background checks. Once considered mere box-ticking exercises, pre-employment background screenings are now doing more to help fill positions rapidly with the right candidates while unburdening HR personnel.
Expanding the candidate pool
Despite the fact that more than eight million workers remain sidelined from the pandemic, many employers are struggling to recruit. In addition to offering signing bonuses and other incentives, companies are re-examining their stance on background report results. Whereas a criminal record may have been cause for disqualification in the past, it is now equally likely to be the start of a conversation.
For one thing, businesses today cannot afford to rule out candidates based on incorrect information. They are looking to pre-employment screening providers with the data resources, quality assurance practices, technologies and services to deliver near-perfect accuracy and respond to any candidate disputes effectively.
“Ultimately, if there is an inaccurate record, it is our duty to help take care of it, personally confirming or correcting the information,” says Gregg Gay, CEO of Asurint, a leader in the background check space.
“We have a responsibility here.”
Asurint CTO David Ramsey agrees, and underscores the commitment to software performance. “Companies need to ask whether a provider has built out systems and processes that are secure, consistent and perform at scale, especially if you’re a larger employer,” he says.
Even when a criminal record is validated, companies are digging deeper to decide if the issue is exclusionary. Human resources professionals are taking a more holistic view, often discounting old offences and those with no direct relationship to the position or offer. Cannabis convictions in particular are gaining new scrutiny as societal attitudes and laws change and employers become more aware of the racially inequitable enforcement that has negatively affected job prospects for millions of people of colour.
“It’s shifted to a second-chance movement, getting more accessible options for folks with a prior criminal past because studies have shown that helps reduce the risk of recidivism,” says Kelly Uebel, General Counsel for Asurint.
Ban the box and/or fair chance laws, which affect when and how employers can ask candidates about and consider criminal history, are among the topics continually monitored by Uebel’s Compliance team and covered in whitepapers, webinars and other resources clients rely on.
Securing talent faster
When the HR team identifies a great job candidate, they don’t want to lose the hire to another company. Ensuring the individual actually joins the organisation is frequently a matter of onboarding speed.
Background checks once again play an important role. The last decade saw a shift to SaaS and cloud-based solutions with APIs to seamlessly integrate with existing HR information systems (HRIS) and applicant tracking solutions (ATS). Workflows are streamlined and delays avoided when HR managers and recruiters order, track and review background checks from within the same software they use for other day-to-day hiring tasks.
Gay is confident that Asurint’s cloud-native, visual workflow-driven, HRIS- and ATS-integrated technology platform is an asset to customers. “We have the ability to customise workflows to meet the requirements of our clients’ business,” he said. “Also, at a high level, we’re an extension of the client’s brand. How we treat an applicant in terms of convenience, accuracy, speed and responsiveness – letting the candidate know and replying if something derogatory comes up in a search – matters for the employer’s reputation. That takes both technology and great people.”
Another key factor is turnaround time. Asurint CRO Courtny Cloeter explained how background search companies that eliminate manual processing accelerate results. “Everything is seamless. Instead of taking two or three days to get a background report, it takes half a day because of the automation,” he says.
As background screening becomes more advanced, Asurint is continually investing in other high-tech and automated solutions to help save companies time, money and improve their competitive advantage.
Guarding against risk
Employment law and data security and privacy concerns are both evolving, leading to a changing threat landscape. Staying in the legal and regulatory clear requires vigilance and up-to-date information.
For example, litigation related to the Fair Credit Reporting Act is on the rise. This law requires employers to follow a specific notification process when background check results could potentially result in an adverse employment decision. Hiring professionals need help to ensure they follow each step and retain accurate documentation. Asurint’s subject matter experts serve as an essential resource for FCRA and other compliance issues, and the platform’s automation features ease the manual burden and help eliminate human error and risk.
Perhaps more troublesome than federal regulations is the patchwork of state laws. “You’re going to see more complexity on state regulations,” says Cloeter. “Our customers struggle with a lack of consistency, especially with state and local requirements. It’s a problem we help them solve.”
Of course, the last thing an employer wants is a cyber-attack to reveal confidential information about candidates and employees. Given the amount of personal information involved in preparing a background report, companies should verify that any partner they consider working with is accredited by the Professional Background Screening Association and holds a current SOC 2 certificate, which confirms that comprehensive information security protocols, such as data encryption, are in place.
With ambitious post-pandemic business objectives to achieve, organisations nationwide are exploring the many ways fast, accurate, automated, full-service and compliant background search capabilities can help them keep up with 2021’s hiring challenges. As companies engage innovative employment screening providers, they’ll also stay ahead of tomorrow’s talent acquisition demands.
For more information, visit asurint.com
by Heather Driggs, Director of Marketing, Asurint
How the IoT can help make the most out of what you have
The age-old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” can resonate in many ways. It can make you stop and appreciate what you do have, and it can also make you take greater care. It’s a concept that’s well reflected in the journey of digitalising factories to make them “smart”.
There are two stand-out problems which can derive from not paying close enough attention to the equipment you already have. Firstly, there’s spending large amounts of capital on new equipment which may incur higher running costs and in turn affect the long-term budget. Secondly, there’s a misunderstanding of what is required to update existing equipment, which demonstrates a lack of knowledge and may result in a lack of confidence in existing kit.
To avoid these issues, there are two methods many manufacturers are turning to: assessing what already exists on site, and training and upskilling staff in the latest technologies.
Most equipment maintenance is either reactive (only taking place when a machine breaks), or preventive (performed at regular intervals to help avoid breakage). Both practices can prove time-consuming, costly and inefficient. But using digitalised predictive maintenance on existing legacy equipment, which combines the use of sensors and AI machine learning to detect when a machine could break, represents a far more streamlined and cost-effective way of doing things.
Predictive maintenance enables companies to foresee when equipment will need upkeep, which in many cases will consist of a simple retrofit of sensors and connected devices, connecting them to a cloud platform from which they can then be monitored remotely. This could result in huge savings in both the short and long term. Certain sensors can connect a smart device to any machine, which can open the doors of maintenance to both consumers and manufacturers. On an age where remote working capability is essential, this is more important than ever.
This is merely one example of where improvements in legacy equipment can result in improved efficiency and productivity. The idea of making a factory smart isn’t just about installing new kit, it’s also about making the most out of what you already have.
There are other ways in which existing equipment can be upgraded or enhanced to maximise its capabilities. Having a digitalisation expert or catapult examine your processes is one way to get this ball rolling.
Alternatively, improving your existing workforce’s knowledge of connected technologies can enable them to reassess your processes internally and see where upgrades can be made and managed. Having in-house staff with the most up-to-date skills and information is by far the most underestimated investment when it comes to digitalisation.
Connected and digital technology has been around for years and is here to stay. There should no longer be discussions of implementing “new” technology as most of them are already of age. Rather, the adoption and use of what is already out there, and making it work in harmony with what you already have is the key to a successful smart factory. The only restrictions are in the mind.
Some of the largest barriers to technology adoption in manufacturing are a reluctance to make large capital investments into the technology, or to embrace it in the first place. But if close attention is paid to the initial steps of upgrading existing equipment and upskilling staff into IOT experts, then other areas of improved efficiency through digitalisation can be naturally identified. Alongside identifying what the business problem is initially, the realisation that becoming a smart factory doesn’t necessarily mean large investments becomes apparent, and with a higher level of knowledge and skill in the areas of IOT behind your workforce, the will to adopt intensifies
Get in touch with your local digitalisation expert at www.gambica.org.uk to find out more about how you can be involved in helping to guide best practice within our industry, or if you are an expert yourself and want to discuss your views and experiences.My LinkedIn and twitter
by Nikesh Mistry, Sector Head – Industrial Automation, Gambica
After a year of Zoom meetings, we’ll need to rebuild trust through eye contact
The pandemic has exacerbated an already troubling trust deficit across political, economic and demographic divides.
Research shared just before the pandemic’s onset uncovered that millennials are reluctant to trust government, business leaders, corporations, social and mass media or even traditional social institutions.
Meanwhile, a recent Canadian survey found that half of respondents believe business leaders are purposely trying to mislead them, and just under half believe the same about government. The decline in trust is understandable, a predictable consequence of very real failures in leadership.
But something else is happening as well. The pandemic has forced most of us to move our lives on to screens. And as we get more comfortable hiding behind screens, rarely receiving and making eye contact, we are also handicapping our ability to trust.
Trust is the bedrock of civilization, and living through screens is taking a significant psychological toll. Researchers have found that real and direct eye contact holds our attention.
As psychologist Christian Jarrett explains, eye contact forces us to make sense of the fact that we are dealing with the mind of another person looking at us, and shapes our perception of that other who meets our gaze. Perhaps most importantly for this context, direct eye contact promotes trust when folks are saying things that we’re not so sure about.
Trust and puppetry
Announcements of a Zoom-infused future — like recent news that Ontario schools boards must offer virtual learning as an option for the entire 2021-22 school year, or that certain businesses are selling off their real estate and making a permanent shift to remote work — are very worrisome.
In researching my book, Connected Capitalism, I watched award-winning puppeteer Ronnie Burkett not only delight an audience, but call on them to perform essential tasks in the show, like adjust the lighting, music and act out supporting roles as amateur puppeteers.
When I asked Burkett how he got a diverse crowd of strangers to trust one another enough to work together in this unexpected manner, he attributed it to eye contact. He explained that we declare ourselves with eye contact. A gaze is like saying “I disagree with you but keep talking to me.”
Burkett’s eye contact invited attachment and a feeling of safety for the audience. But feeling safe doesn’t mean we aren’t expected to be active. It simply enforces the sense that we can trust our cooperative partners; that they have our best interests at heart even as we are challenged to push ourselves to do something novel.
And now, in the age of Zoom, it is challenging to find and maintain eye contact. This single most powerful tool for fostering trust and strengthening relationships has largely gone missing. So what can we do to fix it?
First, knowing all this, make an extra effort to engage in and receive eye contact in all of your off-screen, in-real-life interactions.
Second, compensate for the loss of this tool with an effort to project trustworthiness. Jay Barney, a professor in strategic management at the University of Utah, defines trustworthiness as the attribute of being worthy of the trust of others in not exploiting any adverse selection or moral hazard.
What is the difference, then, between trust and trustworthiness? Trust is a mutual effort allowing an existing relationship to operate with minimal stress. Seeking to be seen as trustworthy, on the other hand, is an individual initiative directed at those who we have yet to meet. It need not be reciprocated to be valuable. And it will enable us to partially compensate for the trust deficit in the post-Zoom era as we re-enter the world to try and build connections.
Third, normalize friendship in spaces that need trust. Viewing friendship as, for example, a meaningful work resource may seem strange. But as social beings, we constantly engage in efforts to influence others to collaborate or co-operate.
What motivates co-operation? Sometimes I co-operate with you because I believe that doing so is consistent with my principles, so trust is a secondary consideration.
But sometimes co-operation is born of a relational motivation, based on the need for identification through social relationships. This means that I choose to co-operate with you because I want and expect to establish or maintain a satisfying relationship with you, usually based on reciprocity. Here, trust looms large. And if I can’t stimulate it with eye contact, I can compensate with the language of friendship.
This notion may not sit well with some. But cutting-edge research demonstrates the decision to engage in pro-social behaviours stems primarily from intuition. When we co-operate, it’s not because we engaged in a deep analysis and calculated it as worthwhile. It’s actually because of feelings. Without eye contact, we need to boost these relational feelings with words.
Bottom line? Trust after Zoom will be tough. But projecting trustworthiness and friendship in places where we are used to being more transactional can help.