The Big Picture on Customer Service, CRM, and Big Data

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 23, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last month I was in London, invited to speak at an event hosted by the IBA Group. The theme of the event was the resurgence of CRM and how it is being combined with Big Data and becoming an important part of corporate strategy today – particularly for companies planning how to improve their customer service.

The analyst Peter Ryan from Ovum was up before me. He talked about the strategic use of CRM and how the improved use of information feeds into a customer service strategy. Ovum has predicted that improving the customer experience will be even more important than improving revenues for companies in 2015 therefore this theme is taking on a new significance.

The director of Internet Solutions at IBA, Aliaksei Minkevich, was also speaking. He described some case studies and drove home the real importance of thinking about technology projects and how they can improve the way a business uses data. Aliaksei was particularly focused on describing how a technology solution is no longer as simple as it used to be. Much of the business benefit from processes and systems today comes from the opportunities to use information in a smarter way, rather than just reducing cost or aiming for efficiency.

I started talking about the connection – as I see it – between modern day CRM and Big Data. The way customers interact with companies in all industries has changed in the past decade and this wider social change in how people communicate has to be appreciated by corporate executives.

The two big drivers of this change were the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and the explosion in the use of social networks from 2008 – both very recent dates. Of course it was possible to use the mobile Internet before the iPhone, but Apple made it so much easier and easy access became the expectation from consumers.

And, of course, people were using social networks prior to 2008, but this was when it really went mainstream. Facebook started maturing and Twitter became commonly mentioned in broadcast media, such as radio and TV. 2008 was really the tipping point when social networks became normal for everyone.

These developments have changed the way customers interact with companies. It is now fairly normal for any customer to use at least six different channels when interacting with brands – email, voice, chat, Facebook, Twitter, and review or rating websites like Tripadvisor. There are more and this changes all the time, but this is already a very different environment when compared to those days before social networks and the mobile Internet were common.

So companies should no longer be exploring how to improve customer service as an activity, they need to be working harder at Customer Relationship Management – back to CRM again. This is because the real measure of success with customers in this multichannel environment is the quality of the engagement between the brand and the customer.

Getting this right demands the use of some serious technology. Running a customer service team no longer means just answering the phone, it needs data analysts, knowledge of Big Data, and a CRM system that allows the customer to engage and enjoy interacting with the brand.

Companies that can deliver this kind of technology in a way that improves the experience of your customers are going to lead the way. Tech players will become customer service experts as the use of technology underpins how companies interact with their customers.

Underneath all this remains the fact that how we all communicate has changed. If you want any executive to understand why this is important, then just ask them about the last time they needed to select a politician to vote for, a restaurant to eat in, or a hotel to stay in. If all these decisions are now being shaped by data, then don’t you think that the relationship between your own customers and your company are also about to be shaped the same way?

 

The Return of CRM Technologies

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 15, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last month eConsultancy asked their readers which digital marketing technologies they have increased investment in during 2014. The number one response, at 49%, was CRM and number two was business analytics.

It is like CRM is undergoing a renaissance, an acceptance that after all the failed projects and strategies, it is really important after all. But why has this happened now?

The eConsultancy article does list several points, but in my view the top three are:

1. Customers are defining how they interact with companies. They choose the channels and companies need better analysis tools to find where customers are talking about their products, and how they prefer to interact. Customers do not just call a pre-determined phone number today.

2. Access to mobile Internet means that customers are engaging far more often. They want information before, during, and after a purchase.

3. Knowing your customer is vital for loyalty. Traditional loyalty programmes are dying out and being replaced by better engagement. Customers want a real relationship with companies, not just some points.

This change in CRM technologies strikes at the heart of how modern companies are organised. Many companies will need to change their internal structure to meet customer expectations, but one thing is clear, CRM is making a comeback.

Belarus: Old Masters of IT in Europe

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 11, 2014

Mark Hillary

Last month, I visited Minsk in Belarus. It’s not a place that too many Europeans visit because a visa is required to enter the country and at this time of year it is bitterly cold. But I wanted to see what was happening in the technology industry in Belarus so I went as a guest of IBA Group along with Peter Ryan, an analyst from Ovum.

My first impression on arriving in Minsk was astonishment. I have been to many countries in Eastern Europe and several that were behind the old Soviet Iron Curtain, so I had a preconception of what I might see, but the first thing I noticed was that the road from the airport into the city was so smooth and new, it would be a skateboarders dream surface.

I had expected to see an environment similar to that in Moscow, plenty of historic buildings and many examples of the old communist architecture – big concrete blocks in my non-architect view. However, my first thoughts on seeing the buildings in Minsk were that it resembles East Berlin. The city is felt very European and very modern.

Minsk Independence Square
A local described to me how Minsk has been completely renovated over the past twenty years. Naturally this is the period since the end of the Soviet Union. Many churches that are hundreds of years old, but fell into disrepair during the Soviet era, have been beautifully restored and there is an enormous resurgence in worship. The Orthodox and Catholic churches that I took a look at were all busy even during daytime in mid-week.

During our stay, Peter and I visited one of the development centres of IBA Group. This company was born in Belarus in 1993 and now has almost 3,000 people all over the world and customers in 40 countries. They are now headquartered in the Czech Republic, which means that they are based inside the EU, but they maintained a software development facility in Minsk – a team that is growing so fast they have commissioned an entirely new building that is under construction now.

IBA Group is an interesting company because they are focused on complete solutions, rather than software development alone. A good example is the public transport ticketing system they developed for use in Minsk – it’s very similar to the Oyster card system in London. However, they put together all the card readers, terminals, and software needed to make it work. They are also able to earn from the knowledge the system provides on how people move around the city – sometimes this data can be more valuable that the IT system itself.
Minsk Central Post Office

Minsk does have some distinct advantages for the technology industry that are not obvious unless you have explored Belarus in person. During the Soviet era, Belarus was the IT and technology hub for the entire USSR. Belarus supplied over 60% of all the IT and technology systems used in the Soviet Union meaning that there is a long heritage of technology knowledge as well as deep expertise in a variety of technologies.

This heritage of working with technology may also explain an important cultural difference with other technology hubs, such as India. When teams of techies are assigned to a project in Belarus they usually feature a range of ages, experience, and knowledge of many technologies. The culture of being an engineer or technician remains strong in Belarus, so an expert programmer doesn’t feel shame in remaining ‘just’ a programmer and not pushing for promotion to systems analyst or project manager.

This is a big difference in my opinion. I have worked with many software development teams and trying to maintain some stability was always a challenge with people quitting for a few bucks extra at a competitor down the road or angling for promotion just because their family believe it’s time they had a ‘better’ job title.

The autocratic nature of the Belarus government counts against the international image of the country – this cannot be denied. However, I asked several people about the reality of living there and everyone I talked to dismissed the ‘last dictatorship of Europe’ mantra as a cliché.

The government doesn’t like political opposition very much, but is extremely supportive of international business and it struck me that it would be hard to criticise Belarus and then feel comfortable doing business in China, Singapore, or Vietnam. All countries where the government is far more controlling than Western Europeans are used to and yet it cannot be argued that the regular man on the street is oppressed in any way in Belarus.

I went to Belarus to learn more about the IT industry there, and I learned far more than I expected to. It is certainly a place worth considering for any organisation that needs expertise with a few knowledgeable “grey beards” on the same team as the young technology wizards.

I also reinforced the experience I have had in the past of prejudice and preconception about places. Places that I have worked in the past include Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka. Countries that often suffer negative stereotyping and yet were ready for business when I visited.

Belarus is the same. I’d love to return and perhaps take the train from Minsk to Moscow. I believe that anyone involved in IT, or the services supported by technology, should take a look. But maybe go and visit in the summer because that cold wind doesn’t care how many jackets you are wearing!
Minsk Yakub Kolas Monument
Minsk, November 25, 2014

Big Data and CRM

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on November 17, 2014

We have it all in this London event featuring international speakers

It’s good to explore the future. At IBA we are always looked ahead to what is coming next, this is one of the reasons why we host this blog. It’s also why we have arranged an exciting event in London titled “The Big Picture on Big Data and Customer Relationships: Case Studies and Thoughts for the Future.

We have three great speakers lined up for the event.

Mark Hillary is an IT director who became a writer. His most recent book explores the subject of CEOs who blog, but he has also written about outsourcing and the globalisation of services. Mark is based in Brazil. Mark will talk about how Big Data and the analysis of customer information is changing the way companies are structured.

Peter Ryan is a principal analyst at Ovum. He is one of the best-known global analysts focused on customer service and experience. Peter is based in Canada. Peter will talk about the way that CRM is changing customer interactions and how companies relate to customers.

Aliaksei Minkevich, the director of our Internet Solutions Division will present some case studies of our own work in this area. Aliaksei is based in Belarus.

All three speakers are travelling to London to share their ideas and we are thrilled to host this event. It will take place on November 27 at the Institute of Directors in London.

Agile! Why Not?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on November 12, 2014

IBA Minsk
Alex Minkevich, PMP®

Agile is beautiful. Agile is our all. Both developers and customers like Agile. However, there are projects or project phases for which Agile doesn’t work or is worse than the old good Waterfall. In my projects, developers intuitively feel when Agile can work and when it can’t, and it’s time to transfer from Waterfall to Scrum or the other way around. Why and actually when should we do it?

In this article, I would like to discuss project success from a business perspective and not from a developer perspective. What’s the difference? It is very simple. In the view of a service provider team, a project is a success when the application met customer requirements, the client signed the acceptance certificate, paid the money, and the developers received salaries and bonuses.

As for business, a project is a success if it helped achieve a business goal, for which it was approved. It might be earning profit, releasing a new product or service, gaining a market share, meeting law requirements, or serving a social need. A business goal should be achieved on time. It means the time is always limited and quality standards are are high. Imagine you are a customer and let’s see when Agile is not working or working but not that good:

1) Scope of work. A bullshit input leads to a bullshit output. Let me give you a small example here. I am making a small web project. Imagine a dialogue between myself and the developer.
– Are there any requirements?
– No… (face palm)
– I see. Then we use Agile!

This sort of dialogue is quite typical. Agile is good when there are no clear-cut requirements. However, how can one start a project, if there is no understanding, what he or she wants to get? Each value should have a price. If there’s no price, there’s no value. The customer does not want to pay for clear requirements from the very beginning. There’s no time for that. But there is a strong wish to go ahead…. Then one should understand that the requirements will be born in hard labor of many iterations and the customer will have to pay for them anyway. There will be additional cost of rework because something will be done in the way we did not want it to be and changes and revisions will be needed.

It is good, if the project is small and you have excellent communication with the developer, are on the same wavelength and quick on the uptake. What if the things are opposite? The project is big and you are based in the UK, while the developer team is in Belarus. There might be many iterations and revisions. The team will fall behind the schedule and customer requirements will be labeled first as Customer Requirements, then as Urgent Customer Requirements, Customer Troubles, Customer Pain in production… You understand what I mean.

2) The key question is: When will this come to an end? Those who did repairs at home can understand me. “A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” (A GUIDE TO THE PROJECT MANAGEMENT BODY OF KNOWLEDGE PMBOK® Guide, Fifth Edition, Page 3)

‘Temporary’ is a key word in the project definition. Agile does not give strict schedules. If I don’t understand what I want to achieve, how can I know when I will complete it? Therefore, an Agile project cannot be completed. It can just be stopped. Any business person wants his or her project to be completed successfully and not just stopped after 80 percent of the top priority backlog is implemented. It is also clear that there is a direct correlation between falling behind the schedule and a price increase.

3) Management of cross-functional teams. If there is one team of 5-7 people, it makes no problem to manage it. What if these are cross-functional teams? The frontend is in Minsk, the backend team is on the customer site in South Africa, the testing team is in India … The planning and coordination for the customer/project manager becomes a nightmare. One should have iron nerves and fanatic energy to make the work run smoothly. Only a few people can do that.

4) The last but the most important thought in my view is the following: “Agile helps chop off illusions but such project is like trying to catch a rabbit running in circles. We are doing what we can do to meet the current business needs and we are not thinking about what business will need tomorrow.”
© Dmitriy Bezugly http://www.system-approach.ru/

It is clear. I talked a lot with businesspeople in the last two years. These guys want all or nothing. There’s no grey for them, just black or white. By meeting the today’s business needs, you are closing the gaps in the current operations and doing nothing for the future business. To make a solution that will be on demand in a year, one should sit down and think hard, and then document the thoughts as requirements.

Conclusions. We should do what everyone is already doing. We should mix methodologies on different projects and even inside one project. Let it be Waterfall or RUP when you define project requirements, then we can go ahead and use Agile for development, back to Waterfall or RUP when we go to production. The requirements should be developed before DD.MMM.YYYY, the backend with the defined functionality prepared before DD.MMM.YYYY, three weeks from October 6 to October 24 are allocated for testing, and then exactly three weeks for go-live. It is strict and accurate project management in its classical sense.

Which technology to use, be it Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall or RUP is not important. One should be guided by common sense and specific conditions of a specific project. Remember that the aim should be achieving business goals of the customer and not getting as much money or person-hours from the customer as we can. Otherwise, how would we be different from others?

Top Secret of Successful Project: Just do your job

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 28, 2014

IBA Gomel
Lavy Itzhaky, PMP®

In one of my last projects, where I was asked to step in as a project manager, there was almost everything to make the project a failure from the very beginning. The customer and management were unhappy, the project team was blamed for everything, and other small things topped the list of shortcomings. But eventually this project was submitted to the client on time and to the client’s satisfaction.

The secret in putting the failing project back on track is not in magic or sleepless nights or a magnificent project manager. In this particular project, the secret was in making people do their job and not to expect them to do something they were not hired for. You cannot expect a junior developer to have calls with the customer for clarifying the requirements or providing the project status. It’s not that I don’t trust the guys. They are great developers but they do not speak the same language the customer does.

As a friend of mine told me, a project team is an orchestra, where everyone in it has an individual role to play and there are people behind the scene who also contribute to the success of the orchestra performance, the and project manager is the conductor, who has to make sure that everyone is doing an assigned role. The Business Analyst gets the requirements from the customer and “translates” them to the developers, the Architect defines the architecture of the software solution, the developers develop it, and the testers test it.

In the above example, the main problem was with too many communication channels, when a developer talks directly with the customer and provides him or her with the project status, wrongly assuming the developer knows everything and not only the assigned part. This may serve as a recipe for misunderstanding and trouble in the project. Everyone in the project has to be responsible enough to do his/her own job and not let personal (possible) ambitions ruin project.

Everyone needs to do their own part in the “orchestra” of the project. They can and should evolve and learn new stuff but in cooperation with the “conductor”. Otherwise, it will negatively impact the project.

Evolve yourself, become a better specialist, become a manager, but DON’T STOP!

Big Data as part of business in 2015

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 21, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data sometimes appears to be a solution that is looking for a problem. It sometimes looks like a technology that has very little use in the real world of business and technologists are rushing around the world looking for examples of how it can be applied.

But I was having a conversation this week with a Big Data expert and I asked a question about customer service in retail – isn’t this one of the areas where Big Data is having the most impact. He agreed that it is one of the most affected industries, but for several reasons.
Everyone knows that customer service in just about every industry has changed. Consumer goods used to feature a telephone number or email address you could use to ask questions or complain. Now customers will use many different channels to comment on a product and many of them have no direct link to the manufacturer.

Customers today are familiar with at least six channels when contacting brands; email, voice, chat, Twitter, Facebook, forums and review websites. These are just the main channels being used now. Many brands are interacting with customers on other social networks, such as Pinterest or Instagram, and other communications tools, such as Whatsapp, are rapidly being adopted.

So customers are using many different ways to communicate. Often there is no formal notification to the brand involved – the brand is just expected to find the question online.

And now consider the retail industry. All these communication changes are taking place, but also the way people want to purchase items. They might buy in-store, online for delivery, online with collection in-store, they might want to return or exchange an item in-store even though it was purchased online.

The communication chain between a brand and the customer is far more complicated than a decade ago, but so is the supply chain. Enter Big Data. These real-life business problems are exactly where Big Data is moving from concept to daily use.

If you want to analyse a complex supply chain in real-time and explore how your customers prefer to shop, how they behave, where are items missing, then all these questions can only be analysed with an enormous data set that is constantly changing.

Likewise for the communications with customers. If they are communicating anytime from anywhere on any channel then there is an analysis function you need just for monitoring communications, but by employing Big Data techniques you can also predict and focus on the most important channels.

I think that 2015 will be the year when we finally stop talking about Big Data as the exception and start considering it just a part of business as usual – in any industry.

Could Big Data help to prevent the spread of Ebola?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 6, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I’ve written about Big Data in several blogs here. What it is. How it can be defined. And even how it can be used, but there are two additional factors that really help with any understanding of how Big Data fits into the modern organisation.
How do you make it work – what tools are needed to move from just having a large amount of data available to being able to gain insights from that data?

Do I have the kind of data that I can get insights from? What kind of insights am I expecting from the information that I have?
I have added two links to recent news stories that can elaborate further on these questions.

It is no use to anyone if you just have an enormous amount of data, but no tools to analyse it with. You can’t engage with Big Data using an Excel sheet. The volumes involved are often enormous and far more than what you could load into a computer to be studied as a single block of information.

So this is one of the first issues to address, and it may be where an expert partner can help the most. Is your data available? What tools can you use to collect together all that structured and unstructured data, and how can you even start to analyse it?
Now, what are the kinds of insights you can find? It depends on your business and the type of data available, but with Big Data you can uncover all kinds of relationships between variables that were not visible without the analysis.

This example of how Big Data is helping to predict where Ebola will strike next is a great example. It is just taking information we already have such as infections, locations of hospitals, number of doctors and so on, but using past knowledge and these factors to make predictions. Now imagine if you could start applying these insights in your business?

Making Big Data work with the right tools and determining the type of insight you need are two important factors in planning how you can make it work for you.

Prosperous Future of Cloud Computing

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on September 22, 2014

Zhanna Huziuk
IBA Group

One of the latest trends in the IT industry, cloud computing is rapidly growing and has good prospects for the future. It represents a new kind of service that provides on-demand scalability, cost reduction, and a possibility to utilize IT resources efficiently.

Although cloud computing is currently on the outset, it has already proven to be a revolutionary turn in the IT industry. Moreover, cloud computing represents not only fundamental changes in IT, but also change in the business environment in general. The main underlying reason for business change is a wide range of benefits cloud provides for all types of enterprises, including SME and large-scale organization in terms of lower IT spending and wider business opportunities. All this makes cloud computing a game changer in the industry.

The European Commission may serve as an indicator of the pace of cloud adoption. It has already developed the EU Cloud Strategy to unleash the potential of cloud computing in Europe. The European Commission believes that cloud computing can increase productivity and create new businesses, services, and jobs.

What makes cloud computing so promising? It enables companies to reap a lot of benefits from highly valuable IT assets, including infrastructure resources, middleware, software, and computing resources without actually buying these assets but consuming them as a service.

For example, if a customer deploys software in a traditional way, it buys a license to acquire the software. With Software as a Service, customers do not need to own the license. They just pay a subscription fee instead. In other words, cloud computing is characterized by lower cost of entry and quicker ROI. As a result, organizations reduce IT-related costs and make IT assets more predictable.

Analytical agencies are thoroughly investigating the trend of cloud computing and related issues. IDC summarized that 81% of enterprises reported lower IT costs with cost reduction from 10 to 20% and 12% enterprises reported savings of 30% or more.

The significant savings encourage businesses to think about migration to a cloud service model. Traditional IT is not able to provide such cost savings due to higher entry costs and subsequent high expenditures on support, management, and maintenance activities. The scale of cost reduction in percentage experienced by businesses that adopted a cloud model is presented in the figure below.

Cloud cost reduction

To be a strong player in the market of cloud services, IBA Group is working to deepen its knowledge, master new skills, and gain wider experience.

IBA Group specialists are skilled in virtualization products and technologies, including IT infrastructure server virtualization platform (installation, configuration, management) of VMWare vSphere, systems of Windows Server HyperV and System Center, VMware EXS/EXSi, and KVM hypervisors. In addition, IBA experts are certified in ITIL v3 framework, which is applicable to cloud services.
IBA Group developed a proprietary solution called IBA Cloud Solution. IBA Cloud Solution provides a reliable network, computing, and disk architecture with backup and related software. IBA Cloud Solution offers migration from a current physical infrastructure to a virtual one in an easy step-by-step way. The solution is based on a reliable IBM Cloud&Smarter Infrastructure and uses outstandingly reliable IBM BladeCenter hardware. Virtualization is based on the leading virtualization platform VMWare vSphere.

Will a Skills Shortage Threaten the Future of Big Data?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on September 11, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

As the economy develops, old jobs vanish and new ones are created. This process has always taken place as technology creates new needs and old skills are replaced. Just consider how important the blacksmith used to be before cars were commonly used and if someone described themselves as a blogger or flash developer in 1985 it would have made no sense – times change.

Big Data is another of these major changes. Not just in the sense that we are becoming able to analyse larger sets of data thanks to the technology becoming faster and more powerful – especially with more memory being available, but because the ability to do this work is now a skill itself. Understanding Big Data and being able to manipulate and analyse large sets of data is a popular skill to be exploring now as every analyst predicts that Big Data use is set to explode in the coming years.

The analyst firm IDC wrote a study in 2012 that predicted the amount of data available to analyse would increase 50 times by 2020. This prediction remains true – if anything it may be even more by 2020 as new applications that create data are launched all the time – from smart watches to other wearable technologies.

All this has led to a fear that there will not be enough people available to work on Big Data projects. McKinsey believes that the US will need almost 200,000 new data scientists by 2018 and the British Royal Academy of Engineering has predicted a need for 1.25 million graduates in science and technology subjects by 2020.

A recent column in the British ‘Daily Telegraph’ claimed that this shortfall in data scientists might even be a threat to the future of business. But what all these concerns in the UK and US often fail to acknowledge is that there are many other countries with an abundance of data scientists.
Offshore outsourcing has been long proven as a strategy for software development and other IT requirements. It will be exactly the same once data science becomes a mainstream part of every business. And companies like IBA Group are already doing it today.

Defining Big Data

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on September 4, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

We have talked about Big Data on this blog before and tried to define it in a way that doesn’t require complex terms, but it is not easy. Many people have very conflicting views on what Big Data is and how their company uses – or will use – it.

A fascinating feature article in the business journal Forbes explores 12 different definitions of Big Data, starting right from when the term was initially used in the 1990s. That’s right, we were all talking about Big Data back in the 90s – it’s not a recent term. The first known recorded use of the term was in a paper published by NASA in 1997 describing their problems of trying to work with enormous data sets that could not be loaded into a computer at once.

The Oxford English Dictionary is possibly the best place to turn for a simple non-technical definition: “data of a very large size, typically to the extent that its manipulation and management present significant logistical challenges.” That’s clear and focused, but also doesn’t really give away any clues about the scale of the challenge faced when manipulating many Big Data sets.

Wikipedia uses a very similar definition to the OED, but the advantage of Wikipedia is that the crowd updates it regularly. As attitudes to Big Data change in the IT marketplace, the online definition can change. The latest Wikipedia definition (last updated on Sep 1) says: “Big data is an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand data management tools or traditional data processing applications.”

Is it possible to define big data inside 140 characters? If you can, then why not tweet your answer to @ibagroup?

Genetic Programming

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 28, 2014

IBA Group
Pavel Charnysh

Artificial intelligence, intelligent self-learning machines, systems that can advise on how to do work better, and robotics – all of this has always been like magic to me. When I studied at the university, I was carried away by these topics. It is even more fascinating to use knowledge from one field for another and thus solve the tasks that seemed unsolvable.

What do you think about the interaction of artificial intelligence and the theory of evolution, one of the most interesting open issues in biology? As I worked with algorithms and not hardware, I kept wondering, how we can teach a computer to be intelligent. I did research on the topic within an internal project at IBA.  This article gives an overview of Genetic Programming and my speculations on how to use it in software development.

As Wiki says, ‘Genetic Programming (GP) is an evolutionary algorithm-based methodology inspired by biological evolution to find computer programs that perform a user-defined task. Essentially GP is a set of instructions and a fitness function to measure how well a computer has performed a task. It is a specialization of genetic algorithms (GA) where each individual is a computer program. It is also a machine learning technique used to optimize a population of computer programs according to a fitness landscape determined by a program’s ability to perform a given computational task’.

In my view, GP is a way to find a solution using atomic user-defined blocks.

The following are the main principles of GP:

1. Initially, we are given past performance data to build the most suitable program for reproducing the same principles of data structure in the future. We assume that the initial data were produced by a kind of a black box. We have historical input and output data to reproduce this system with the same rules and principles for future use.

2. All programs are members of a population. It means that we get not the only solution, but a set of solutions and can choose the most suitable one.

3. Changes in a population are made using an iterative method. At each iteration, the programs that are most fit for crossover and replenishment of the population are selected.

4. A fitness function is used to determine, if a program is fit for the purpose. It is a user-defined metric that numerically presents the ability of a program to solve the defined task (to fit the mapping of the input and output parameters for a given data set).

5. The fittest individuals of a population are selected to develop the population just the way evolution selects species.

6. Changes that can be implemented in the surviving members are similar to biological evolution. A member can be mutated or crossed with another member of the population.

7. A stop condition is defined for a fitness function, when one can stop GP and pick up a solution.

To grow up a population, a programmer must define primitive blocks which will form an individual. These are terminals, including constants and variables, and primitive expressions such as  +, -, *, /, cos, sin, if-else, foreach, and other predicates. Any program can be presented as a tree built up of these blocks. This way, any individual of a population can be presented.

Genetic Formula
In this case, mutation and crossover are represented as following.

Genetic Figure 1
Genetic Figure 2

We just take a randomly selected node from one individual and use it to replace a randomly selected subtree of another individual. That is a crossover. We can also take a randomly selected node of an individual and replace it with a randomly generated subtree. That is mutation.

Genetic Programming is used for neural network learning and numeric computing, as well to approximate complex functions. I was researching GP to imitate activity of a definite person. An employee while doing his or her job can make both optimal and non-optimal decisions, which makes human thinking different from digital technologies. When you are asked to point to the south, you won’t be able to do it without a mistake, and this ‘white noise’ is our individual quality. Sometimes, we do not need an accurate answer to solve a problem. After gathering the data, we can imitate this employee’s behavior for new tasks using a computer program.

Genetic programming is also useful when creating an artificial player for a game with different difficulty levels. The behavioral algorithms of an artificial intelligent player are typically ideal and therefore a human cannot beat it, if it didn’t play at give-away. Consequently, we need to make the artificial intelligence a little bit human, allowing it to make mistakes from time to time. To this end, the GP algorithms are in place because they teach the artificial intelligence human behavior, including the ability to make mistakes.

 

Isn’t that remarkable? I think it is real magic and those who create smart computers are magicians. Who knows, maybe it’s a way put a soul into a computer.

Is Jargon Preventing an Acceptance of Big Data?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 18, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Smart Data Collective blog recently published a view that there is too much jargon circulating in the industry related to Big Data. In fact, as I mentioned in my last blog, Big Data is itself a term that is often misunderstood and needs more clarity.

The blog is interesting because the author takes a good example of an over-used business term, ‘digital’, and explores what we mean when we read and use this term. Many of the definitions from the dictionary have nothing at all to do with the definition of digital business you might expect – modern, hi-tech, and connected.

In fact, many more terms are taken from the dictionary and bent and shaped into something new by technology companies. Innovate, disrupt, and thought leadership are all terms that mean something different if you are not working for a technology company, but how can we improve the use of Big Data as a term?

The advantage we have is that Big Data is a genuine and meaningful area of data science. It’s not just jargon created for use by MBA students as they discuss their plans for ‘wealth-generation’.

Big Data needs to be understood by the general public and by the company leaders that have never really felt that they had to understand technology before. But almost everyone has now used Facebook, or contacted a customer service centre, so it is becoming easier to connect the theory of how Big Data can be used to the ways in which people see it every day.

Understanding Big Data

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 11, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data is a subject we have explored often on this blog because it’s an area where IBA has extensive experience and knowledge, but it is often difficult to explain. How big does a database need to be before it can be considered ‘Big Data’ and why do we need this separate terminology to refer to manipulating and analysing this data when relational databases have been in use for decades?

One example that goes a long way to answering these questions is the way that customer service is changing – especially for retailers. Products used to have a phone number and email address that customers could use to reach the manufacturer or retailer – usually to complain after a purchase.

Now, customers use online forums, review sites, Twitter, Facebook as well as the more traditional and direct channels such as online chat, emails, or a voice call. Customers are not always directly contacting a brand when they comment on a product, yet they usually expect a response.

Exploring this mass of information is a classic Big Data example. The retailers want to connect together all these communication channels into an ‘omnichannel’, yet this is impossible when they are considered to be regular databases.

If a customer emails a complaint, then tweets about the problem because their email is not answered and then finally calls because neither tweet nor email has been answered then the ideal situation for a retailer is that the agent on the phone knows about the earlier email and tweet.

But to make this work is not easy. The company has no control over Facebook or Twitter – it’s not internal data. And how can comments on a tweet be connected to a customer on the telephone?

All this is feasible, if you have enough information from various sources and you can analyse it quickly enough. Every company that interacts with their customers is now exploring this problem so maybe Big Data is about to hit the headlines again.

Messaging and Messengers

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 4, 2014

IBA Gomel
Ihar Kalesnik

It is common knowledge today that communication is king. The word ‘communication’ refers to face-to-face, online, and telecommunications, video conferencing, and other communication methods, including texting or messaging.

Mobility is another aspect of our everyday life. Mobile devices embrace a growing number of life areas, making our life easier and less tied to specific places, be it home, office or something else.

Accordingly, a growing number of mobile applications have shown up, the old ones are increasingly replaced with new applications. However, mobile applications often fail to meet our expectations. It happens that the features that were accessible earlier and made the mobile applications so convenient are no longer available. Some are too hard to set up or tune. Others on the contrary are installed easily but have too many functions, most of which are useless. Finally, we begin looking for something new again.

This is also true about message exchange software. Depending on personal habits and preferences, everyone has his or her own choice of favorite messengers.

Taking into account our personal experience and preferences, IBA developed a mobile messaging system that functions on Android. IBM Lotus Sametime served as a starting point and a basis for the application.

IBM® Sametime® products integrate real-time social communications into business environment, providing a unified user experience through instant messaging, online meetings, voice, video and data. With just one click, you are immediately connected to the person behind the information, which helps you meet the ongoing demands of everyday business.

In the IBA messenger, we implemented a customary and useful set of functions, making the application easy to customize and utilize. As an option, we added connection with the address book of a mobile device and a possibility to make a mobile phone call to any contact in the address book.

IBA Messenger screenshot1 IBA messenger screenshot 2 IBA messenger screenshot 3 IBA messenger screenshot 4

After the application was published on PlayMarket, many people have been using it successfully. Numerous positive references testify to its usability and popularity.

At present, messaging systems have different approaches to interface, the used protocols, and methods of interaction. Producers and developers keep working to modify the existing applications and create new ones. Using these applications, it is possible to exchange text, images, audio and video files, conduct voice and video communication, and use many other functions.

IBA is also planning to expand the messenger’s functionality. Currently, the IBA team is working on the next release of the application to include new functions based on the user feedbacks from PlayMarket. The release will present such useful features as file transfer, extended status support, and automatic reconnection. We intend to launch the new release on PlayMarket in September, 2014.

In the near future, we are going to develop an iOS version of the application.

I invite you to try the messenger in use. You are also welcome to leave comments on how we can improve it :)

Big Data and Cloud in decision-making

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 25, 2014

IBA Group
Aleš Hojka, CEO of IBA CZ
Vitězslav Košina, Business Consultant at IBA CZ

It is a reality today that organizations have to deal with a multitude of unstructured documents and other data. These data have true value, if they are properly and timely processed and extracted, and also are supplied with really useful links.

Almost any business has in some way implemented a data management system (DMS), a content management system (CMS) or a business intelligence (BI) solution. Unfortunately, a new system often provides a very low added value, especially when a large amount of data is involved. Getting reasonable output from unstructured data is problematic. Why is it so?

DMS, CMS, and BI systems can be really effective, if they meet two essential requirements. The first is a sufficiently flexible environment and quick access to information complemented by strong information security. A really flexible environment shoul be able to respond to resource and computing requests in a very short, practically in real time. This can be easily achieved by using a cloud-based solution. As these requests are dynamic and cannot be easily predicted at the time when the system is designed, cloud can be very instrumental. In addition, keeping resources for a «rainy day» is not an effective allocation of resources.

Therefore, cloud is a prerequisite for dealing with big data, but it is not the only one. In some cases, data and documents are not available anytime and anywhere without limitations, though we have an environment designed for large amounts of data. This is true.

It should be noted that effective decision-making involves an increasingly growing amount of information. As the information should be available on mobile phones and tablets, an information management system cannot transfer huge amounts of data and should have short response time. If we meet these two basic requirements, then we are poised for truly efficient extraction and processing of large amounts of data, which can be further aggregated and analyzed to make a grounded decision, deal, and etc.

For many companies, using Software as a Service (SaaS0 is a problem, because they have to do with sensitive commercial information or client data. From the perspective of a cloud-based solution, a dedicated cloud is needed as apposed to shared capacities.

Many organizations outsource only the infrastructure, while we recommend to outsource the entire solution. With a cloud solution, the issue of security is solved to the extent that is normal for corporate clients. In this case, only the needed capacity is commissioned and there is no need to reserve resources for the team that takes care of the infrastructure and applications. The organization can thus focus on business and management objectives, as well as provide added value to the clients.

With mobile devices, security is a very thorny issue because attacks on their security are more likely than on the computers that are located in the company’s premises, where they are protected physically. The good news is that these devices are so powerful that allow for implementing the strongest encryption and other elements of modern security.

Taking into account the links between documents and their associated metadata, as well as other data sources, cloud computing is the best solution one can choose. It is however possible, if needed, to move from SaaS to the model, in which the solution is managed by the customer and yet not loses the flexibility that cloud offers us in terms of resources. Using cloud is much cheaper than building one‘s own infrastructure. Moreover, it enables organizations to concentrate on their requirements and business needs instead of specific software or infrastructure.

Internet of Things

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 18, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have written recently about Business Analytics (BA). What is BA? How does it affect your IT strategy and your business in general? I have also observed that there is a relationship between BA and Big Data (BD) – they are related concepts.

To clear up any confusion, I would say that BA is related to taking a set of data, performing a modelling operation, and using the model to predict some kind of future state – what-if calculations. BD is more of a continuous analysis of very large-scale business information.

But the business concept that is driving forward the importance of both Business Analytics and Big Data is really The Internet of Things (IoT).

Even for a fairly short blog post, this is already starting to fill up with three-letter-acronyms so let’s define what the IoT really is. More and more devices are capable of communication using the existing Internet infrastructure. It used to be computers that we would connect to the Internet, then laptops, then smart phones. Now it is tablets, ebooks, televisions, and every corporate electronic system you can think of – from security systems to electricity meters to photocopiers.

This revolution in making almost every device connect to the Internet is the starting point for the IoT. The classic consumer example is usually the connected fridge that can recommend a dinner based on what is inside, though a more useful example might be your car diagnosing a problem and communicating with the service centre without your own interaction.

In 1999, about 250mb of data per person was created each year. By 2012 ten times this amount of data per person was being generated. Data creation is increasing and the speed of increase is accelerating. Every day people are generating data with their smart phones without doing anything – just by switching it on, connecting to the Internet and allowing applications to work in the background.

This change in both the consumer and corporate environment is driving both the need for continuous Big Data analysis and also the ability to predict what may happen next based on Business Analytic tools.

Frontend Development Tools: HTML 5

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 11, 2014

IBA Group
Alexei Zagorsky

Until recently, HTML was used exclusively to code web pages. At the early stages of the mass use of the internet, it was simple and clear that HTML is a markup language, CSS defines the styles of the webpage elements, and JavaScript is used to create specific effects that cannot be achieved with HTML and CSS.

This is of course an idealistic picture. The reality was that the browsers that existed at that time displayed the pages in an unpredictable way and met no standards. On the other hand, the standards did not catch up with the pace of life.

The situation gained momentum after the internet attracted the interest of large-scale businesses. It became quickly clear that with the internet one can dramatically increase sales. No additional software is needed! Just run the internet.

It is a browser that became the client part of a client-server application in the time when the word frontend was not yet used ‘right and left’. The word website became too generic in a way and the time came for web applications to step to the foreground.

The problems with HTML standards were not yet solved but the situation progressed quickly. Technologies improve dramatically, if they are in high demand. Even HTML and JavaScript allowed developers to create masterpieces when in capable hands. Web development was implementing a combination of features provided by different specifications, such as HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.1, as well as well as widely-used methods, including different ‘workarounds’ to prevent browser errors.

HTML 5 simplified and, which is more important put in good order many things that were available before. It became a unified markup language that combined the capabilities of HTML and XHTML. In addition, it preserved compatibility with the earlier versions.

The main features of HTML 5 are the following:

• Tools for semantic markup of a document. Using relevant tags, one can easily identify the title, content, navigation, and etc. A similar approach can be applied to structure the content

• Multimedia and graphic support at the level of HTML tags. It radically simplifies implementation of audio and video content on a web page. As for the drawing capabilities provided by the canvas tag, they take one’s breath away

• New elements and attributes, and exclusion of the features that are better handled by CSS

• Improvement in web form handling, including new field types, additional attributes, and validation ‘on the fly’

• New JavaScript APIs for complicated web applications, including drag and drop, document editing, 2D drawing, and management of browsing history.

These are just basic innovations. For all HTML 5 features, visit the W3C website.
The web pages built on HTML 5 look simpler in terms of the code, are quicker to run and friendlier to search robots. Today, HTML 5 is indispensable for a professional website. Thanks to the new capabilities of HTML 5, web applications are actually similar to classic desktop applications in terms of frontend. One more important features of HTML 5 is its compatibility not only with PCs and notebooks but also with mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, as well as with modern TVs that have internet access. Therefore, it is possible to develop a unified interface that looks the same on different devices.

The HTML 5 standard is being further modified. The current version is available at the W3C website. However, one cannot be sure that the existing browsers fully embrace these specifications. Trust but prove :). We should also bear in mind that the standards developed by W3C are not mandatory and their implementation depends on browser producers. These are the captains of the IT industry like Google and Microsoft.

How is Business Analytics Used in the Real World?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 2, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

As I have mentioned in the last couple of blogs Business Analytics (BA) is about using data and models to make better decisions. This can help governments to improve policymaking and companies to develop better strategies. The aim is to use information to improve the day-to-day performance of the organisation.

But what are the real business decisions being taken with BA tools and how does the data analysis process improve the decisions?

    - In the airline business, employees and aircraft need to be in the right place at the right time to maximise efficiency. This is a complex planning procedure when things are going right, but when a flight is delayed or a key staff member is ill or a plane requires unscheduled maintenance then the knock-on effect can be huge. Analyzing the possible options is a great example of how BA can influence real decisions.
    - Hotels want guests in their rooms as often as possible. Empty rooms in a hotel mean lost profit and a hotel that quickly sells out a particular night may have been able to charge more for the rooms on that evening. Analyzing past customer behaviour, the competition, and other influencing factors such as big sport or music events in the neighbourhood is another classic example of how data can feed into a specific business decision – how much to charge for a room.
    - Banks and finance companies need to make quick decisions about whether to lend money to a particular customer based on limited information – such as the salary. However there are many other factors that could determine whether the individual is good for the loan or not and these can all be quickly factored together to provide a decision.
    - Supermarkets always seem to have full shelves these days. Can you remember Saturday afternoons where many big supermarkets would run out of important products? With the entire history of each product and how it sells in each store it is now far easier for supermarket managers to ensure they are ordering the correct stock levels.

These are just four entirely different industries, but in each one it is clear that Business Analytic tools are changing how managers make decisions in those companies.

Better decision-making leads to increased efficiency, a better use of existing resources, and the opportunity to perform better – to earn more by delivering a better service. For this reason, managers in all industries should be thinking about what Business Analytics can do for them.

Selecting the Right Business Analytics Partner

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on June 16, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

IDC is one of the leading global industry analysts, so it’s always interesting to see their own guidance on choosing a supplier. Their recent report ‘IDC MarketScape Excerpt: Worldwide Business Analytics Consulting and Systems Integration Services 2014 Vendor Assessment’ focused exclusively on the questions you need to ask when searching for a Business Analytics partner.

1. Pay attention to domain knowledge. Over the years, some service providers have built deep industry expertise across certain business needs.

2. Create a culture of analytics. It is not enough for you to have access to the right data, you need to create the processes that can make use of this data across your entire organization.

3. Don’t neglect the basics. Companies often find they have data issues once the migration has commenced, which will then delay the entire migration project. Stop and avoid all these roadblocks by taking the data cleansing stage seriously so the migration can run smoothly.

4. Align the strength of your supplier with project success. If you find a good match then ensure that your partner gets stronger as the project succeeds.

Of course, point 5 from IDC was to utilize their own research when selecting a supplier. Most of these points are what any manager with a good experience of outsourcing would be planning anyway, but it cannot be stressed enough that good planning for the migration and creating a culture of data analytics are essential for success.

Business Analytics and Big Data

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on June 10, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Business Analytics is a topic that is often confused with Big Data. While the analysis of Big Data is related to the continuous analysis of business information through an analytical process, they are related concepts rather than exactly the same thing.

There are various kinds of analytics to start with:

Descriptive Analytics: how to gain insight from historical data, creating reports and scorecards that give a better vision of some existing data.

Predictive analytics: modeling through the use of predictive models and machine learning – allowing the system to learn what might happen next based on the data that is being studied usually in real-time.

Prescriptive analytics: taking a large data-set and attempting to create decisions, choosing possible paths, simulating what might happen if certain decisions are taken.

Decisive analytics: this supports human decision-making with very visual analytic information that helps the user.

So the field of Business Analytics is more related to the process of taking data and either modeling outcomes or predicting what may happen next, rather than just attempting to spot trends in a large data set.

Business Analytics is really a tool that can support executives to make better decisions by supporting their decisions with data, rather than just estimates or guesses. By using actual data from the business and modeling potential outcomes based on decisions that could be taken, the data can help to support the direction a business leader should take.

This type of process has existed for a long time, but it has been the creation of vast pools of business data – the move towards a Big Data environment – that has really stimulated the need for improved Business Analytics. The increased amount of data has provided more information that can be analysed and yet has also made it more difficult to reach a conclusion on the right decisions – without better analysis.

Frontend versus backend. Where to begin?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on June 4, 2014

IBA Group
Alexei Zagorsky

This article opens a series of discussions devoted to frontend development. Until recently, this part of the development job was not treated properly. By this series, I intend to present my view of the modern trends in the development of user interface, as well as technologies that are used in web development.

It common knowledge that the internet is built on a client-server architecture. A server is a powerful remote computer or a group of computers called ‘cluster’ or ‘cloud’. Server software installed on a server serves customers. This software is also called ‘server’. With regard to WWW, it is a web server (Apache, IIS, nginx and other), i.e. a software complex that receives HTTP requests from customers and returns HTTP responses, typically with the requested data.

Operations related to processing of server data are called backend development. The following server programming languages are designed for backend development: PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, ASP.NET, and Java. An important part of the operation of server programming languages is interaction with the database management server (BDMS). DBMS keeps well-organized information that is accessible at any time. The most popular DBMSs for WWW are MySQL, IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL, FireBird, and MongoDB.

A client is generally speaking any device that enables the user to access the internet, including desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. From a technical perspective, a client is a web browser that transmits to a web server HTTP requests for the resources specified in URL, as well as displays server responses in the form of HTML pages, files, media streams or other data.
Any user application needs a convenient and functional interface.

It is especially relevant for a web application because it is used by people who have different qualification and knowledge levels, as well as work in different professions. It is also essential that web interface work well from all modern browsers, including those on mobile devices. Thus we come to the frontend concept.

Frontend development is creation of the client part of a web application. Until recently, this application part was treated without due respect. Most efforts were focused on the server part of a project, such as business logic, data, and security. A frontend developer was perceived as ‘the guy who makes the project look more attractive’. It is quite clear that it is a misperception.
A modern frontend developer is ‘a Jack of all trades’, an expert in his or her domain and in many adjacent domains. A frontend developer writes code for a website, creates user interface, deals with usability, web design, and has an idea of the theory of colors. A frontend developer must have an excellent knowledge of HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, and Ajax. Experience in such popular JavaScript frameworks as jQuery, Google Web Toolkit, Prototype, TwitterBootstrap, and many others are also of use.
Frontend developers deal not only with specific concepts and tasks, but also with abstract thinking. They belong to those few who are able to make a bridge between mathematics and art. As they are able to unify these two disciplines and apply user experience to logic processes, they are very valuable employees for any IT business.

Therefore, the current trend is to pay more attention to frontend development. In the following article, I would like to discuss the technologies that give a website a modern look and feel, and contribute to its powerful functionality.

Reshoring

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 27, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The calls for companies to explore reshoring keep getting louder, led largely by a new sense of nationalism in Europe that was on show during the recent European elections. Many voters are rejecting internationalism in favour of wanting to see more business done close to home.
There has also been a change in the cost of doing business in Europe. In fact, the FT reports that the UK is now the cheapest manufacturing location in all of Western Europe.

But in all the reports about reshoring becoming something of a trend, the focus is always on manufacturing, not the IT or IT service market. Intellectual services appear to be purchased from the best possible location and the talk of reshoring this year has not changed this.
The way IT services are purchased is certainly changing. The concept of an app store being taken from the consumer market and applied to enterprise systems is becoming a reality and cloud-based computing power on demand is becoming normal.

These differences in the way that IT projects are planned and delivered will ensure that customers continue buying from the best global location for their own needs. With most technology projects today the emphasis is on the required skills – if you can’t find them nearby then it’s only natural to look overseas and hi-tech services operate on a global platform.

So it is true that Panasonic is thinking about moving manufacturing back to Japan, and Otis moved their elevator production from Mexico back to the USA, but in IT development it looks like the future will remain global – bits and bytes can be delivered online unlike cars, DVD players, or elevators.

Mobile Applications As You Do Not Know Them

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 19, 2014

Vitězslav Košina
IBA Group

Mobile devices, mobile technology and mobile applications are widely different. Every now and then, we see Android smartphones of various designs and sizes that are extensively used mainly for communication, entertainment, and sharing in social networks. In business, we come across legendary iPhones and iPads with advanced applications often tailored to the needs of a particular company. Windows Phones are gradually creating their segment in the mobile market. The spectrum of mobile platforms is even wider and a variety of using mobile devices is broad as well.

Entertainment and business are only two out of many aspects of mobility. Mobile devices are also of considerable practical importance. They are able to meet specific user requirements at the right time and place. Thus, mobile applications become the right hand in finance (smart banking) and insurance.
Think, for instance, of the mobile application Pojišťovna for an insurance company. It is a case of value added insurance services, a new channel to customers, an interactive communication tool, and a useful helper in crisis situations such as traffic accidents. The hybrid extension of the Pojišťovna application allows for the search of contracted services. The developers applied an innovative approach focusing on user-friendliness while minimizing the need of additional adjustments and costs associated with future updates. This part of the application for a Czech insurance company is developed by the IBA CZ team.

Usable application may be of help to everyone
Application Pojišťovna (Insurance Company) is available not only for the clients of Česká Pojišťovna. Anyone interested in practical assistance in crisis situations is able to download it. The number of downloads is the best evidence that it makes good sense to have the application and that it brings real benefits to its users. Currently, more than a hundred thousand users run the application on their mobile phones. And the download continues, as well as the app’s gradual improvement and its enhancement with new features.

Certainly, the application is available for download from the App Store and Google Play. It is possible to get the app for Android, iOS, and Windows.

Relevant help, no need to click to another application
Mobile application Pojišťovna provides much more than just a quick and easy access to information about products and services of Česká pojišťovna. As a bonus for current and future clients, the application offers assistance when in a car accident, when looking for contractual services or places of interest (including contacts and opening hours). Technical solution involves a combination of generally known mobile applications and a website built on the Liferay technology. The result is a hybrid application that is used as an easy-to-manage web application. The user does not need to visit the website because all the functions are controlled directly from the mobile application.

To view a website through the mobile application, the so-called Webview components are used. All standard operating systems are nowadays equipped with them. The benefit of this solution for the application owner is a significant reduction of time-to-market when deploying new or editing existing content in the mobile application and thus potential cost savings. In fact, the deployment is not subject to a regular release cycle of mobile applications (up to several days for iOS), yet it is subject to a regular web publication activity. In extreme cases, it can take a couple of minutes. At the same time, the website owner doesn’t have to maintain and publish several versions of the app (iOS, Android, Windows Mobile) when making changes in the content.

This technological approach may not be suitable for all mobile scenarios. However, for a selected set of scenarios it can significantly save costs and time of publishing new content in mobile applications.

Mobile web: advantages in many situations
Depending on the position context, a mobile application can provide relevant information associated with the situation. In case of Pojišťovna, it will specify the closest branch offices or available points of service. In case of the Bene+ loyalty program, it is the list of current rewards and discounts offered by GE Money Bank to its loyal customers.

Bene+ is a GE credit card loyalty program and is another example of using mobile web to increase customer comfort. In addition to general information about the loyalty program, the participants of Bene+ immediately get the list of places where their discounts and bonuses can be used and see their locations on the active Google maps.

Unlike the Pojišťovna application, Bene+ is not a genuine mobile application, it is a full responsive website. It is available for mobiles and desktops, although technically it is a different solution. The thing they have in common is that both the part of mentioned Pojišťovna application and Bene+ website are created by the IBA CZ development team and are built on Liferay technologies.

See also earlier publications on mobile technologies:
Development and testing of mobile sites and applications
Mobile applications: HTML 5 versus native solution

Development and testing of mobile sites and applications

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 12, 2014

Jana Albrechtová
Vítězslav Košina
IBA CZ

In the first part of the series on mobile applications, we mentioned a record growth of the mobile market. It is currently developing at a dizzying pace not only in terms of the number of users or mobile devices, but also from the perspective of technology development.

Mobile technologies bring new possibilities of interactivity, including the context of time and place. They offer new channels and forms of engagement, new ways of communication, and new opportunities for trade, including data collection and processing, and remote operation.

In the previous article, we spoke of the need to be mobile simply because your readers, website visitors, customers, business partners, and suppliers are mobile. In this article, we look into how to become mobile.

Mobile use

Beginning a mobile project

Development of a mobile application should be preceded by a thorough analysis. The target market, end users, their behavior, and the devices that are in use should be identified. It is the alpha and omega of every project. Budget estimation and assessment of the expected benefits play a prominent role, too.

The mobile market is characterized by high diversity, a variety of different types of mobile devices, and a wide range of used platforms. In addition to several basic browsers that are in wide use, some specific browsers are installed on a limited number of devices. Different browsers in combination with different operating systems, platforms, and mobile devices bring about hundreds of possible combinations. This increases possibilities of regression errors. Testing of mobile applications is therefore a much more complicated task than testing of PC applications. We know this from our experience in real projects.

Android versus iOS and more…

The most popular mobile platform is Android, covering about 70% of the market. It is followed by Windows and iOS used on iPods and iPads by Apple. These hold about a 12-percent market share. Some users apply specific platforms that vary greatly in behavior and requirements. For example, iOS users form a small group, but they spend more on mobile applications. As a result, they generate the largest portion of revenues.

Creating mobile applications for iPhone can therefore be commercially advantageous despite the numerical superiority of Android in the Czech market. Developing for iPhone is also simpler because iPhones are available only in two dimensional variations. Also, iPhones go through a rigorous approval process by Apple.

“When customizing applications on Android, one should expect a high probability of regression errors. An application tuned for functioning on one device, may cause errors when functioning on another device”, explains Tomáš Běloch, tester at IBA CZ.

 

Testing in practice

Testing of mobile applications is comparatively simple.

First of all, it is worth identifying the device on which the application will be mostly used. The device should cover the market in terms of its diversity and cover most of the users of the target groups. Then one needs to define the types of devices on which the application will function (smart phones, tablets, etc.), operating systems (Android, iOS, Windows), particular versions of the operating systems, and the size of the screen and its resolution.

When it comes to a mobile web application, one needs to identify the most widely used browser.

Virtualization tools may be helpful when testing applications on various platforms.

Web is the basis

If mobile applications should be commercially successful, in many cases it is useful to create a mobile web. Even when designing a website, it is preferable to start with its mobile version (the principle “mobile goes first”). One needs to make emphasis on key services and simplify communication with the clients.

Just as HTML is the foundation of any website, it is also the foundation of any mobile solution. While the user experience and sophisticated interactive features are the domain of native applications, HTML 5 is usually the easiest and fastest option for creating mobile applications. Such application can later be converted into a hybrid form when the user’s view seems to be native.

Hybrid applications are developed as a web application that ensures versatility and a possibility to use on many different types of devices. If HTML 5 is unable to cover all the requirements, native programming is applied. Web applications in a hybrid form combine a simple user interface typical for a web application and the functionality specific for a native application.

See also:
Mobile applications: HTML 5 versus native solution

Is Reshoring the Future?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 5, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech that highlighted reshoring as a key objective of his government. In his speech Cameron said:

“In recent years there has been a practice of offshoring where companies move production facilities to low cost countries. We’ve all seen it. We all know it’s true. And it will continue.

But there is now an opportunity for the reverse: there is now an opportunity for some of those jobs to come back.”

Cameron focused mainly on the manufacturing sector. He cited examples such as the Horby model company bring production back from India to the UK and Raspberry Pi computers moving production to Wales.

What he said makes sense for these companies. By reducing the complexity in a manufacturing supply chain there is the opportunity for these companies to react faster to the market than if their products needed to be ordered many months before delivery.

Cameron went on to acknowledge that this is not a simple argument. He is not describing an ‘us’ v ‘them’ world:

“…I’m not saying there is a finite number of jobs in the world and that our success depends on some kind of tug of war to win them back at the expense of the East.”

But Cameron’s concept of reshoring is very focused on companies and processes that require a physical product delivery. He talked about call centre jobs moving closer to home, but the change in call centre strategy over the past decade has been well documented – people prefer to have their calls answered closer to home.

For many other professional services there is effectively now a global market. Graphic designers, advertising, accounting, and IT professionals are now operating within a global community of expertise and with instant delivery of products via the Internet there is no supply chain difficulty.

So it doesn’t seem like the UK government focus on reshoring will affect those companies or individuals supplying technology expertise. These services are usually sold based on the expertise required, not simply on a low price alone – allowing a global search for the best possible skills wherever they may be found.

Mobile applications: HTML 5 versus native solution

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on April 25, 2014

Jana Albrechtová
Vítězslav Košina
IBA CZ

With the rise of the mass use of mobile devices the importance of mobile applications has grown dynamically. They are applied in a variety of areas, such as trade, finance, travel, transportation, media, and education, and go far beyond being just about fun or communication in social networks. When used for remote work, they are helpful in solving different operational problems and in receiving information in real time.

Mobiles Spread

The spectrum of mobile technologies is as wide as that of mobile devices. On the one hand, there are purely native applications built specifically for an operating system of a specific mobile device. On the other hand, there is a universal HTML. In terms of user-friendliness, HTML 5 is catching up with native applications. In terms of cost-effectiveness, it often surpasses native applications. Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, I would like to familiarize you with the current issues of mobility and give a high-level comparison of native applications and HTML 5.

Mobility rules the world
According to statistical data, about one third of the Czech population uses smartphones, a phone with its own operating system. Mobile operators report that up to 80% of phones sold today are smartphones.

According to estimates, the penetration of mobile devices in the Czech Republic will double in the near future. However, we are still a few years behind the most advanced countries of the world. In Sweden the world’s leader in the use of smartphones, the penetration is already more than 70%.
Globally, about 37% of users have moved their normal activities from a desktop to a mobile device – a mobile phone or tablet.

In addition to smartphones, tablets hold a significant and steadily growing share of the mobile market. Their penetration in the Czech market climbed to 8% in 2013. It is also worth mentioning eReader or Smart TV that follow smartphones and tablets in the list. However, in terms of interactivity they ‘stand in the shadow’ of smartphones and tablets.

The agency ZenithOptimedia has carried out a research on the spread of mobile technologies in 19 countries, namely: Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, and USA. The following chart shows some of its findings and shows the situation in the Czech Republic.

Penetration of mobile devices by country
Hand in hand with mobile devices, the mobile internet comes. According to Cisco estimates, the mobile internet traffic will grow by a factor of 26 by 2020. We also anticipate a significant increase in the speed of the mobile internet.

Emphasis on UX and mobile context
Mobile devices differ from desktop computers mainly in terms of user interface. Their screen is smaller and the control is less accurate because of touchscreen. The size and mobility also entail a limited battery life. Another feature is unstable internet access because connection is made from different places with different coverage and speed.

With the development of mobile platforms, User Experience (UX) is growing in importance. UX causes the need for the device to have an intuitive interface, be easy to use, provide high quality interactivity, and offer different effects.

A key aspect of mobile devices is mobile context that is the context of place, time, and user. The phone knows its location through GPS. It can adapt to specific conditions. It offers interaction with the environment, is good for remote operation, both online and offline. Mobile devices are used during natural disasters, serves not only for emergency services, but also for example for insurance companies to reimburse damage.

Specifics of mobile devices
• Smaller screen compared to PCs or notebooks
• Touchscreen with less precise control
• Limited battery life
• Unstable or slow access to mobile networks
• Emphasis on usability
• Mobile context

Native applications
Native applications are built to suit mobile devices or to be more exact, for a specific operating system (Android, Windows, iOS, etc.), offering a high degree of interactivity, sophisticated design, and user friendliness. Running in native code, this system is fast, reliable, and able to work with all features of the phone.

Use of native applications, however, faces the problems of diversity of the mobile market and of fragmentation of its users. For each platform and hardware, you need to create and test its own native solution. The application must also adapt to the constant updates of the operating system. This the advantage of native applications becomes also their fundamental shortcoming.

HTML applications
Universal HTML offers web solutions as an alternative to native applications. Although designed primarily for a desktop, HTML 5 is able to meet the specifics of mobile devices. HTML 5 overcomes the disadvantages of an original website. It can work offline and is able to control the basic functions of mobile phone’s hardware.

An important difference between native applications and web solutions is the way users access them. While a web application is accessible to anyone, has its URL, and takes into account search engine optimization, a native application is available at special stores (Google Play, AppStore). They are accessible to potential users but should be downloaded first.

Users can see native applications as an icon on the desktop. They can also interact with the user via push notifications. Web applications are normally started via web browser.

The following diagram illustrates the benefits of native and web applications in several key areas (the better the solution, the higher the proportion of the total scale is).

Native vs. HTML5 apps

Be mobile
Given the universal spread of mobile devices, the question is not whether to be mobile, but how to be mobile. Before choosing between a web or native application, a thorough analysis of the target market and user behavior should be conducted, as well as financial objectives and expected benefits be assessed. For ease of presentation, web solutions are suitable. Complex applications with a high degree of interaction usually require native applications.
It is also necessary to take into account the development and testing costs for different platforms. Based on the experience from the projects implemented by IBA CZ, testing of mobile applications is up to three times more expensive than testing of desktop applications.

“In practice, the use of HTML 5 became very quickly a universal rule. In many cases, it is the fastest and most effective solution. There are also ways to turn it into a native app”, explains Pavel Šafář, consultant at IBA CZ.

Big Data: buzzword or technology trend?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on April 21, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data is often viewed as a big buzzword, but it’s a technology trend that is affecting everyone in their daily life – as well as changing the way enterprises need to organise their systems.

Ninety percent of all the data that exists in the world today was created in the past two years, according to analyst firm IDC. The average American office worker generates 5,000mb of data every day just by working on documents, sending emails, or downloading videos. By 2015 the amount of data we are creating now will have doubled – we are exponentially creating more and more data faster and faster.
You might think that these figures sound exaggerated. How could I have created thousands of megabytes of new data just by going into the office today? It’s easy with emails being copied and shared and presentations today requiring more images and more video – the enterprise has moved on from an era where text alone was enough.

The figures from IDC suggest that data creation will have grown by 2000% between now and 2020. And regular consumers create 75% of all this new data. This is because 87% of American adults constantly publish their location – often unknowingly – via their mobile phone and 65 billion location tagged payments are made in the US annually.

As more consumers carry more devices with the ability to measure and record more information, often automatically uploaded to the Internet, there is a sea of data being created and it affects every possible business and industry in every location.

Organisations in many industries are now facing pressure to explore Big Data, to find how they can get value from mining the information they have on clients and transactions, but it needs tools and expertise to get right.

This is one kind of enterprise project where it is almost certainly better to outsource the work to an expert than to try performing in house. You can buy some tools and make an attempt at examining the data you have, but if you don’t know how to configure those tools or where to start looking then your Big Data project might just turn out to be a big mistake.

Visual web, Big Data and enterprise technologies

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on April 14, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Our last blog mentioned the growth of the visual web. This is an important trend that is changing how content is consumed on the Internet in general, but is also changing the expectation of how managers consumer content within organisations.

2013 was the year that images surpassed text as the most popular means of communicating online. Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook have become the most popular ways to communicate and these tools are largely visual.

Storing and managing all these images is becoming an enormous big data problem too. There is a growing need to take control of Big Data that is becoming more urgent each day. Ninety per cent of all the data that exists in the world today was created in the past two years, according to analyst firm IDC. The average American office worker generates 5,000mb of data every day just by working on documents, sending emails, or downloading videos. By 2015 the amount of data we are creating now will have doubled – we are exponentially creating more and more data faster and faster.

Figures from IDC also suggest that data creation will have grown by 2000% from now to 2020. And regular consumers create 75% of all this new data. This is because 87% of American adults constantly publish their location – often unknowingly – via their mobile phone and 65 billion location tagged payments are made in the US annually.

All this automatically published information combined with images and video mean that the way we communicate is changing fast. This affects the way companies hire, the way they market their services, and the way they communicate internally.

Enterprise technologies will need to reflect the established public networks if corporate communication – internal and external – is going to succeed in future.

How important is visual information in your business?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on April 2, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

How important is visual information in your business? What do you think of as visual anyway – a chart on Excel or some other reporting system?
The most recent funding round for Pinterest boosted its valuation to around $3.8bn, which sounds like a lot of money for something that just looks like a visual scrapbook on the web.

When Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1bn many commentators thought that it was outrageous – Facebook had overpaid for a phone based photo-sharing service that didn’t even have a website.

Facebook eclipsed that deal recently when they purchased Whatsapp for $19bn. Whatsapp is a text messaging tool that is popular all over the world, but particularly in fast-growing developing nations such as India and Brazil. But what is really different about Whatsapp is that it allows easy photo and video sharing – it is not just a tool for texting, it offers a complete visual experience too.

Take a look around the Internet. It is becoming more visual. Many bloggers are choosing to just create a video instead, or to create a blog that only contains photographs.

Photo network, such as Flickr, offer free space to users that measures in the terabyte – unthinkable amounts of space just a few years ago, yet now it’s almost essential because the Internet is becoming more visual and more focused on mobile devices as the tool that is used to consume content.
This means that companies using the Internet need to consider how their own information can be reflected. How do you publish corporate reports and information when the trend for information use is becoming more visual?

Consumers are getting used to ‘reading’ Instagram and Pinterest in the same way they used to read the newspaper and this is affecting corporate life. A manager today will not want to read a dense report packed with numbers. Visual information has always been useful, but now it’s essential if you want to convey a message within your organisation.

Visual reporting

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on March 18, 2014

IBA Group
Kirill Degtiarenko

We live in the era of Big Data. These days everyone is overwhelmed with information. There’s no time to read and analyze the data that come to us from different sources. This is where data visualization can help.

According to Visual Teaching Alliance, “it is hard to argue with the observation that the generation of students now moving into and through our educational system is by far the most visually stimulated generation… In fact, research shows that 65% of our students are visual learners.”

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and we see how images today seize the online content. People and companies document their lives with photos. The web is turning into a visual landscape.

Data visualization is already mainstream. As a result of visual presentation, complicated and potentially dull information becomes easily understandable and comprehensible.

The BI market is also shifting, from tables and spreadsheets to diagrams and infographics. It is inherent to a human being to perceive visual images quicker than plain text or numbers. We “read” graphical information several times quicker than data in a spreadsheet. The user can see the key data at a glance and therefore make efficient analysis and a grounded decision.

Clarity and ease of grasp make a report efficient. Based on visualized data, it is possible to make a timely and grounded management decision. High quality visualization enables managers to achieve good business results.

A report title should be also catching and reflect the essence of the report in a clear and concise form. Diagrams serve as a good tool for data visualization. Color serves to highlight certain details and make selected data easy to remember.

The following is an example of how a complicated spreadsheet turns into a visual report.

Spreadsheet Visual report1 Visual report 2

Offshore Outsourcing is About Finding the Best Talent

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on March 10, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Offshore outsourcing (often called offshoring) often gets a bad press. Many people assume that offshoring must be all about finding the lowest cost service and therefore the world is engaged in an endless race to the bottom, searching for lower and lower costs.

It’s not like that at all. An interesting article in the business magazine Forbes challenges the conventional wisdom on outsourcing. For instance, even though the US and Europe account for about half the economic activity of the entire world, only about 10% of the global population lives in these two regions.

This means that there are an enormous number of highly skilled people outside the wealthiest nations on earth. Working with this talent is essential because of the difficulties involved in finding these people locally.

And many companies are more globally oriented today. If you wanted a new logo designed in the past then it would be done by a local designer, now it’s done anywhere in the world based on finding a designer you like. Any intellectual task can now be performed anywhere in the world so the issue today for companies of all sizes is that if you are not working globally then how are you finding enough skilled resource to keep you ahead of the game?

And finding the right talent to support your team back in headquarters is only half the story. If you want to expand to new markets, what could be better than working with a team of people in those new markets to give you a footprint and a first step into the new region?

Offshoring has often been misrepresented, but it is now an essential part of corporate strategy that aims at making the skills of the entire world available to clients, wherever they are located.

Finding SAP Expertise Just Got Easier

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on March 3, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

What is the most common reason any company will work with a technology partner through an outsourcing deal? The most common response is often because it costs less than hiring the expertise internally, but this is not always true – cost is sometimes a driver, but not always.
Flexibility is usually a more important driver. Flexibility to find expertise exactly when and where those skills are needed, especially when the skills don’t exist internally.

When a big project is being designed and created it may be that particular technical skills are only needed for the implementation. It makes no sense to hire the expertise internally in the same way that you probably go to your local car dealer when your car needs a service rather than doing all the work yourself.

SAP is a great example of this principle. Founded in 1972, SAP is the world’s largest business software company having more than 55,700 employees in 130+ countries. Today, more than 183,000 customers in 130+ countries use SAP software on their workstations. SAP is a very popular business tool, but the companies using it don’t need to keep SAP experts on their own payroll all the time – it makes more sense to work with a partner like IBA when the expertise is required for planning and a new implementation.

IBA has worked on the application of SAP projects since 1996. There is now a team of highly–skilled professionals with almost two decades experience in diverse and mission-critical SAP projects.

This principle can be applied to any technical tool, but SAP is one of the most popular business systems used globally. IBA has the expertise and can deploy consultants and even run your technical help desk for questions related to SAP and all for the lifetime of your project deployment.

In this case, outsourcing allows you to tap into a large talent pool. You can get the right SAP skills in the right place at the right time – every time.

Read more about SAP experience within IBA.

German Outsourcing Association Research Promotes Eastern Europe

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on February 10, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

The Outsourcing Journal published a research paper last year focused entirely on the merits of ITO and BPO in central and Eastern Europe.

Organised by the German Outsourcing Association this is an interesting paper with contributions from across the CEE region, including those of particular interest to IBA, such as Belarus and the Czech Republic.

Stephan Fricke, CEO of the German Outsourcing Association wrote about the future for outsourcing in the introduction to the paper: “The future looks bright for CEE IT and business process service providers. Why? Because, speaking for our home market Germany, the demand for IT skills and business process knowledge will not decrease. Quite the opposite is predicted, which is not difficult to explain. The current situation in Germany, where companies are unable to fill desperately needed positions in IT and higher qualified jobs as engineering is caused by failed educational policy and there are no signs that the government has efficient tools to manoeuvre against.”

Fricke went on to add: “So German companies will be forced to look outside their borders for IT-project support and the most accessible destination for that is the CEE region.”

Once again a major trade association has pointed out that far from sourcing being just a low-cost way of doing business, companies in Western Europe need to look beyond their own borders to grow quickly and expand. CEE-based companies like IBA are well placed to work with companies in countries such as Germany – to help them succeed as Europe enjoys economic growth once again.

New Technologies Coming in 2014

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 28, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

Welcome to 2014 from IBA. This is going to be an exciting year! Not only is the European economic recovery really starting to pick up – with the UK probably leading the way – there are new technologies that are coming onto the outsourcing scene and becoming really important.

An article in CIO magazine highlights the top 10 outsourcing trends to watch out for this year.

IT outsourcing experts say: “this could be the year customers — and a few robots — take greater control of the IT outsourcing space”.

Our favourites from the CIO list are:

Hybrid offshoring; offshoring will continue to be an important trend, but many companies will explore how they can do it partly themselves and partly with a supplier – in a more blended way than before.

The cloud being grounded; the cloud is here to stay, that cannot be denied, but many companies have jumped into cloud-based services without realising that they often need a complete culture change, not just a technology change. It’s likely that some companies will step back and plan better for the cloud this year.

Lower cost consulting; we all know that most consulting is overpriced and many companies that deliver services can provide great advice as well as delivery – this is going to become a more popular consulting solution this year.

Of course CIO mentions several more trends, but what do you think will be the big outsourcing stories of 2014? Leave a comment here or tweet us on @ibagroup.

Is Offshoring Now Moving to Nearshoring?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 10, 2014

IBA Group

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary

It’s interesting to see the Indian press recently reporting research from the Wharton School in the USA on the offshore outsourcing climate in India. The Wharton data reports that many companies are exploring how to reduce their offshore outsourcing strategy – now preferring to find ways they can reshore or nearshore the processes.

This makes sense. Outsourcing for an enormous cost reduction may have been a driver a decade ago, but it’s not possible in the India or China of today. Service quality has become far more important as supply chains have become more complex and this does mean that many companies now want to keep their team closer.

This general shift in strategy does lend itself to technology experts positioned in central and Eastern Europe. The Indian technology boom of the 2000s will not persist into this decade if the more general business strategy is to start keeping valuable assets closer to home.

It is not always possible or desirable to undertake every technical task in the immediate vicinity of the head office of an organization, but the nearshoring option does allow companies in Europe to work across the rest of the continent.

In the past the nearshoring versus offshoring debate was always nuanced by the difference in cost, but now that many companies are actively trying to find a way to keep their team closer together, it seems the value of remote offshoring is declining.