Companies Are Using Big Data Without Realising It

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on February 25, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data is one of those buzzwords everyone is talking about, but as I have been saying for some time now, most companies are performing some kind of data analysis on their customers or suppliers and have been doing so for years without ever calling it Big Data.

There does come a time when the data being analysed is so huge and fast changing that specific Big Data tools are required, but the reality is that many organisations are already performing some kind of data analysis that could be termed Big Data – without them even realising it.

A new study from Dresdner Advisory Services backs up my observations. When asked specifically if they use Big Data, just 17% of companies responded yes on this survey. 47% said that it might be used in future. However, 59% of the respondents also claimed that Big Data is “critically important” to their business. Something is wrong?

The survey shows that the definition of Big Data is perhaps one of the problems here. Most companies don’t have petabytes of data to analyse and they therefore are performing data analysis, but not thinking of it as Big Data analysis. If the manager doesn’t think of the problem as big enough then they don’t use the term Big Data.

However there are many areas of industry where this is about to change, largely driven by technologies such as mobile and the Internet of Things. Think of an example such as a retailer needing to create the same customer experience for an in-store customer, as that same customer would receive online.

These problems require data. They also need it to be analysed fast. While a customer is in-store and tracked using their mobile device, decisions can be taken about whether to give the customer a discount code based on their profile. During payment, recommendations for other products can be made based on sales history.

All these processes are easy to imagine, some retailers are getting this sophisticated now, but to make it happen it needs the IT system to be joined-up with data that can be analysed in real-time – allowing the system to take decisions itself.

Another easy to imagine examine is with automobiles. Cars are increasingly connected to the Internet via smart phones and wi-fi. They will increasingly diagnose problems and communicate with the manufacturer without the driver being aware that the car is fixing itself. The amount of data captured and exchanged for this to work is enormous, yet in most cases the customer is entirely unaware of the processes taking place.

So how big is big might still be a question for many, but I think that we are on the cusp of an explosion in data use – analysing this much information will certainly be a part of the bigger picture for Big Data.

Nearshoring Back On The European Outsourcing Agenda

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on February 10, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The debate over nearshoring and more remote offshore outsourcing has rumbled on for years in Europe. The debate over voice contact centres was fairly conclusively resolved a while back, with it becoming clear that most clients prefer their contact centre to be closer to home, but the broader IT and IT services market has still embraced all kinds of outsourced model.

However in all the outsourcing predictions for 2016 I have seen the resurgence of the European offshoring model several times. For example, a recent report by the analyst Global Remote Services says:

“Nearshoring will continue to gain momentum in Eastern Europe – nearshoring is fast becoming an option which is seen as being more skill specific for businesses with a mixture of complex, high-end projects as they realise the value in keeping outsourced work close to where the business generally is. Nearshoring in Eastern Europe will continue to grow as it becomes attractive and competitive to the UK market, and also much ‘nearer-to-final-customer’ and ‘easier-to-manage’ versus far-shoring.”

We all know the typical arguments when comparing Eastern Europe to a more remote location, such as India, but I think it’s important than advisors are now focusing heavily on skills availability.

Outsourcing has long been considered a “lift and drop” business strategy, which is how it got the reputation for being all about saving cash. Let’s take a process, lift it out of the business and drop it completely into a supplier and get the same work done for less. That’s the old approach, but times have changed.

The boundary of organisations has become more blurred, particularly when expert skills are needed. Organisations are hired to provide those skills, but they work in the office of the client, with the client team. The client and supplier merge together to create a solution today, rather than the client firing an entire department and dropping those processes offshore.

Outsourcing has become a more mature business strategy and with a greater value placed today on skills and partnership, it’s no surprise that nearshoring is returning to the boardroom agenda.

Trends in Data for 2016

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 20, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

One of the trends for 2016 that is certain to only increase in importance is the use of data analysis across many different types of organisation. Big Data and the real-time analysis of data in general is reshaping many industries, redefining how companies build a relationship with their customers.

The fact that this change is applicable across all industries is the most important aspect of this trend. Almost every company in every industry is exploring how a better use of data can give them the edge in 2016. Three specific areas I see as being really important for the year ahead are:

1. The Internet of Things (IoT); tech commentators like talking about the smart fridge that knows you need more eggs, but this is going to be a much more serious trend. If every electric device you own is networked then some incredible new possibilities are created from cars that can self-diagnose and fix problems without you even being aware of it to being able to control anything in your home remotely.

2. Machine Learning; many contact centres have been exploring how robots equipped with product knowledge can handle simple customer service enquiries. As they learn more about what customers want they will get far better and eventually even be able to anticipate what the customer needs. This ability to learn and apply knowledge with physical or virtual robots will be really important. It’s 5 years now since the IBM Watson system beat the TV game show Jeopardy, now doctors are training Watson in how to recognise and diagnose illnesses.

3. Data Security; the weak spot in all systems that need customer data is that the customers become too scared to share their information – scared of data leaks and hacker attacks. The Ashley Madison attack in 2015 was an example of how hackers can even threaten the existence of a company, just by stealing data.

Big Data, and data analysis in general, will certainly be more important in 2016 because it is now affecting so many companies, but this final point is important. As customers share more data there is the danger of more leaks and more attacks. The only thing that will prevent the benefits of enhanced data analysis becoming a reality is if people become wary of sharing information.

How Outsourcing Will Change in 2016

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 13, 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Technology outsourcing has changed dramatically in the past few years, but what are the key changes ahead in 2016? A new report in CIO magazine lists their view on the ten key trends to watch for. In my view, from those ten, these three are really worth your attention:

1. Cloud and as-a-service infrastructure; services are being built in a far more flexible way allowing software and infrastructure to all be located in the cloud and to scale up or down as required. Companies only pay for the systems and software they use today, not licenses for software that needs to be installed or rooms full of servers.

2. Vendors get more flexible; contract times are getting shorter and payment schedules are changing, but this is mostly because the idea of the client and supplier is changing. IT experts are becoming true partners, becoming a part of the team and contracts are starting to reflect this change in the relationship.

3. Automation; a lot of what we considered to be processes that needed to be performed by humans can be learned by robots now. Robotic Process Automation will allow robots (can be just software rather than physical robots) to learn processes and repeat them, then to learn with experience.

Despite all these suggestions from CIO magazine, one of the most critical changes is the way that IT services are purchased. With more systems available as a service or via apps there is a greater disconnect between the CIO and the business managers. Many IT projects can be commissioned directly by the business team without any need to interact with the CIO of a company. That’s a big change as the CIO used to retain control over all technology systems.

What outsourcing trends do you think will be really important this year?

Engaging Customers in 2020

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 16, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last month I was in London giving a keynote address to the Engage Customer audience focused on the customer experience in 2020. This event is focused on the entire industry that surrounds customer service and how it can be delivered.

You can see my slides here, but I thought it was worth mentioning this presentation to a more IT-focused audience because the biggest change that is taking place in the customer service industry is the introduction of various technologies that are improving how customers can be managed.

Look at the list of six technologies that I believe will be making a big change to the customer experience in the near future:

· Virtual reality; with Facebook investing heavily in Oculus and their Rift system, this will be a far more common technology in the near future.

· Augmented reality; as Google creates a version of Glass that does not look like a computer on your face this will return.

· Wearables; already common for fitness and health, they will eventually replace the telephone.

· Internet of Things; tech that can diagnose and fix problems without the human being involved – imagine if your car could fix itself?

· Automation / Robots; replacing mundane tasks with robots, even in contact centres.

· Location Awareness; retailers able to send you a one-hour offer because they know you are near to a store.

Many of these technologies are in the process of being adopted and others will become more important in daily life in the near future, however, as you can see from the presentation slides, I mention various other technologies that will soon change how customers interact with brands.

· Omnichannel; companies are connecting together all those channels that customers are using and creating new opportunities to win business. The L’Oreal virtual make-up app is a great example of changing the way that beauty products are sold.

· Fintech; banks are finding that new start-ups are picking individual banking services, creating them online or on an app, and winning customers. Entire full-service banks are now being launched using the app as the central point of interaction.

· Communication; every communication from shopping to politics to finding a new partner is changing and becoming electronic – how does this change in the way people communicate everyday change the way your business operates?

What is clear to me is that the customer experience is a great consumer of new and innovative technologies. More people in IT and IT services need to consider how they can work with experts in the field of customer experience because managing customer interactions is about far more than managing a contact centre today – it’s a business area that is entirely driven by technological change.

Big Data Is Now A Corporate Asset

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 8, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data is growing up – finally. That’s the conclusion of new research published recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The research details how corporate attitudes to data have changed in the past four years – with many organisations now seeing data itself as a corporate asset.

Instead of constantly seeking more data, companies are asking the right questions. They are seeking the right data that can help decision support, rather than measuring and capturing everything regardless of use.

This strategic alignment with a more intelligent approach to data often comes with the elevation of a data manager to the executive board. Either the role sits with the CIO/CTO or a new Chief Data Officer role is created to ensure that there is always a view on data value at the top table.

What is particularly interesting for managers who are asked to invest in Big Data projects is that there is a link between a well-defined data policy and financial success. Not only does a well-defined data policy correlate with business success, but also the effectiveness of being able to resolve real business problems through more effective data use.

Commenting on the EIU research in Forbes magazine, Bernard Marr, author of the book “Big Data”, said:

“As technology continues to improve, the ‘bigness’ of big data will become less and less of a factor. Companies are becoming more comfortable with the idea that they will need to scale up to allow the value of data initiatives to reach all sectors of the business, and so they are becoming more comfortable with approximation, agility and experimentation.”

I agree with Marr. We can see from this EIU research that more companies are exploring how to use Big Data, but importantly more are finding a genuine business reason or use. As more companies find these reasons to get more engaged the use of Big Data will explode in size – all over the world.

IBA Group Wins IT Spartakiada

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 1, 2015

On November 15, the IBA Group team won the first place at the 12th IT Spartakiada sport competition. The multi-day event included matches in basketball, volleyball, karting, bowling, table tennis, and kicker.

Nineteen teams from various IT companies participated in IT Spartakiada, with the first competitions starting in September. IBA Group won gold in karting and bowling, as well as bronze in kicker and volleyball. The table tennis and basketball teams finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Winners of IT Spartakiada are determined by the minimal sum of points scored by teams in their top five sports.

Later on November 28, Miss IT 2015 was held a part of the IT Spartakiada. Evgenia Sudakova, a software engineer from IBA Gomel represented IBA Group. Her choreographic piece impressed the audience and jury by its plasticity and artistry.

The originality of Evgenia’s image, her erudution, and ability to present herself were praised by the jury, which named her the winner of Miss IT 2015 and awarded the young woman a well-deserved crown. It was the first crown for a contestant from Gomel.

We congratulate the IBA Group team and Evgenia on their titles and wish them more success in the future.

IBA Group Team Wins Bowling Competition at IT Spartakiada
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Portals of Digital Cultural Heritage

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on November 26, 2015

IBA Group
Jan Schuma

This year, IBA CZ has successfully delivered two projects that became another step forward in the area of portals. The projects were implemented for the government sector and included solutions to manage the objects of cultural heritage.

Although library portals are our new skills, we are not first-timers in the area of digital cultural heritage. Since many years, we have gained a profound experience of working with records of digital cultural heritage, for example, during the project implemented for the Police of the Czech Republic. It was the portal of the artworks’ registry system and implied the processing of information about stolen and found objects of cultural value. So we had a good knowledge of cultural valuables and a deep knowledge of police systems. The extension to another specific area was just the next logical step.

Motivation

Currently, only a few companies work in the area of library systems. The information systems they were deploying for quite a long time in all institutions, libraries, and museums are rather static and are viewed as legacy systems today. Considering our deep knowledge of portals and previous experience in similar systems we brought some fresh air into the world of library information systems. And we succeeded.

Solution

In a situation when we were providing proof of our experience in the sector, it was important to understand what the library systems are. Therefore, within the partnership with Masaryk University in Brno we worked with external experts to understand better the specific requirements and characteristics of these systems.

In fact, every institution that owns a collection of books, museum showpieces or any other collection is trying to catalog them. But everyone is doing it in its own way. Figuratively, we can say that at first there was a clay tablet, then came a papyrus followed by a parchment, paper, and finally by a digitized information system.

There is no need to say that the uniformity of data is at a “very low level”. Special purposed protocols and standards were supposed to improve the situation but they are past their prime.

For now, nothing better is available yet. (Please forget about web services). In addition, the institutions want to exchange the information about their collections.

As soon as we understood and learnt by experience what library systems were about, it was enough to cope with the existing implementations of these non-traditional technologies and to integrate the whole thing with the portal. It was not easy but thanks to the dedication of the whole team we came to a successful end.

Results

The web portal of historical collections is currently running on the Liferay platform providing the search through 50 castle libraries and ten other large-scale library institutions.

The portal of digitizing the cultural heritage literally displays the collection of books and collection of items from the Vysocina region.

For example, the above mentioned project is called PSEUD and is based on the IBM WebSphere technology.

These two projects were for all members of the team of a great benefit both from the technological and project point of view. We proved ourselves and demonstrated to our customers that we are able to work with the records practically about anything from books, paintings, sculptures, and clocks to weapons and jewelry.

We were able to create and configure the portal so as to provide easy search not only for scholars and museum keepers but for police, ministry officials, and general public as well. And certainly, no one can get illegal access to the information belonging to others. In addition, we were able to integrate the portal with the databases of ministries, Interpol, the National Library, as well as the municipal museum “somewhere in the mountains.”

If you are interested to obtain more information on the portals of digital cultural heritage, please contact Jan Schuma (jan.schuma@ibacz.eu).

IDC: Big Data Spending To Soar Over Next 5 Years

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on November 10, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Concerns have been mounting in the Internet of Things (IoT) recently. Equipment manufacturers have been tussling over standards prompting some to believe that a ‘Betamax’ situation may be created where some devices cannot connect to the IoT grid.

If such a situation occurs it could seriously impact the adoption of Big Data projects. Big Data does not depend on the IoT – there are many other types of large database – but the constant flow of IoT data means that most IoT projects will also require a Big Data element.

However there is some good news from the analyst community. New data from IDC suggests that the growth rate for spending on Big Data between 2014 and 2019 will be just under $50bn – that’s compounded growth of 23.1% each year.

The real elephant in the room for the Big Data market is the security of collected data. There have been several damaging data leaks by major organisation in recent months. The danger for companies that are collecting large amounts of data is that leaks of private data will cause brand damage so serious that companies could even face an existential threat.

IDC believe that large companies are aware of this danger and are planning their Big Data infrastructure with security in mind.

“The ability to leverage big data and analytics to develop an integrated view of customer activities and business operations will provide competitive differentiation to companies across industries,” said IDC programme director Jessica Goepfert.

“However, in addition to the huge opportunities, big data presents some significant risks and liabilities to organisations. Line of business and IT executives will need to approach these ongoing challenges with awareness, flexibility, adaptability, and responsibility.”

This is an area of the technology business that is growing by around one quarter every year right now. There will need to be some big mistakes to derail this market, but it is possible. The constant stream of security stories in the media shows that the public are more aware than ever of the dangers ahead. Companies adopting Big Data need to ensure they are always one step ahead of the data thieves.

Gartner Predictions for Tech in 2016

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on November 4, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The industry analyst Gartner Group has issued a list of ten technologies to watch for 2016. These are the trends that the analyst firm believes will be shaping the digital agenda next year.

You can go to the Gartner newsroom where they list all of their predictions, but here I want to comment on what I see as their top three.

Adaptive Security Architecture
If a CEO today is not aware of the importance of security then their board should be asking how they got the job. Major companies are now facing existential threats because technology systems were hacked. Consumer companies with personal data on millions of customers are particularly at risk and one hack can destroy many years of trust in a brand. Making security smarter, tighter, and more able to adapt to changing attack methods will be an enormous trend in 2016.

The Internet of Things (IoT)
Despite recent suggestions the IoT is stalling because there is still no single agreed standard, I believe that there is enough momentum in this trend to start creating a significant amount of work. Naturally this connects to an increased need for expertise in Big Data analysis if IoT is creating enormous amounts of data.

Autonomous Agents
Machine learning is getting smarter. People laughed at Apple Siri when it was first launched, but have you tried it recently? Intelligent agents have improved enormously. The Amazon Echo system replicates Siri in the home, allowing a user to ask questions from anywhere in the home. Similarly machine intelligence is set to revolutionise customer service operations as the most common enquiries are recognised and handled by robots – Robotic Process Automation.

As always, the Gartner predictions are interesting, but after checking the complete list of ten, which would you pick as your top three?

European Financial Regulators Investigating Big Data

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 20, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

One of the key advantages for brands mining Big Data is the information it can reveal about their customers. Trends can be spotted and in many cases actions by customers can be predicted before they take place.

This is particularly applicable to financial services because records of financial transactions are thorough. Financial service companies can use customer behaviour to predict the best time to offer a new product – such as a loan – or even when a customer might be struggling and about to default on financial commitments.

But European regulators are pushing back, concerned that if companies can analyse data and create predictions that can be used to sell additional products then it may be seen as an invasion of privacy by some customers.

The three EU financial regulators – the European Banking Authority, European Securities and Markets Authority, and European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority – have joined together to study the effect of Big Data on customers in Europe. There is no formal data announced for their report, but they have indicated that they will be studying Big Data closely for about the next year.

Banks and insurance companies have many legitimate uses for Big Data that go beyond just marketing alone, fraud prevention for example, so it will be important for companies using Big Data to explain the benefits to the regulators over this coming year.

If the regulators conclude that analysing data in this way is invasive, it could create a problem for many banks that are now investing heavily in this technology. It’s up to the industry to demonstrate their need.

Could The IoT End Up Like Betamax?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 13, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

We have all seen the numbers related to the Internet of Things (IoT). 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020 with $19 trillion of business opportunity. It’s a big deal.

But, there is a hidden side to the numbers that a new feature in Forbes magazine has explored. Ten different industry groups are trying to define standards and frameworks for the IoT. Six companies that employ 780,000 people, and have net annual sales of $428 billion, are almost entirely controlling the entire industry.

Forbes suggests that it’s like a giant casino. Each of these big technology companies is presented a united front to their clients, but behind the scenes everyone is fighting to create a dominant position on the bodies that are defining standards.

Wars over standards always break out when new technologies come along. Who can forget the old days of VHS vs. Betamax video? However, this time the prize for being a dominant player is enormous.

The problem here is that the Internet of Things is a concept or strategy. It requires the creation of an entire ecosystem that involves both hardware and software. If every device needs to be connected to every other device then manufacturers across several different industries need to start working together.

The IoT isn’t a foregone conclusion. It will only work with devices that can interact with each other. If large technology companies only see the market opportunity and start battling for turf before even agreeing on how the IoT can and should work then it may never work.

We may end up in a situation where only certain products can link up to others, or worse still, you need to buy everything from a single manufacturer to be able to create a connected environment. It’s time for the big companies in this market to really start working together, rather than just joining trade bodies and pretending there is unity.

As the Forbes features says: “Who will win with this strategy? It won’t be us.”

New Challenges of E-Documents in ECM

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 5, 2015

IBA Group
Aleš Hojka

28. 08. 2015
Finally, legislation is catching up with technology. Nevertheless, it is still very important to provide the safety of storage and to secure the validity of electronic documents. The article by Aleš Hojka, IBA CZ General Director, reviews what the possibilities in the market are and what should be considered before purchasing a DMS (document management system).

In recent years, we often use the term “e-document” when talking about document creation and storage, as well as about document lifecycle management. No doubt that in the ECM / DMS area, it is a quickly emerging trend.

The fundamental element of this problem is the shift of legislation, not only our Czech, but European as well. For example, the Regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (eIDAS) clearly states that an electronic document has the same legal force as a paper document and that no authority in any of the EU Member States can decline a document just because it is not a paper one.

Providers of ECM / DMS systems and process consulting should also keep up with the times, as customers mainly appeal to document archiving or so-called reliable archive. Most frequently, we come across e-documents in banks and insurance companies, when the “hallmark” of safe storage, archiving and document inalterability is supplemented by, for example, a digital signature, certificate or biometric signature.

So how to efficiently not only carry out document processing and long-term archiving, but also to ensure their legal validity, so that formally and meaningfully they have an equal permanent and evidential value as their paper counterparts? First you need to look at the specific requirements of the customer and then to offer a suitable software, or an integration of multiple systems. A wide range of options pops up in mind from so-called enterprise solutions through other cheaper alternatives and up to open source solutions.

You need to approach every customer, either new or already existing customer, individually and offer him/her an optimal solution. Unfortunately, we come across more and more customers who were recommended an unreasonably large (enterprise) system and who are now facing the deployment of other agendas, which development and integration is much more complicated and expensive than it could be in case of simpler DMS system alternatives. Not every customer needs a robust solution, but the reverse is also true when certain requirements cannot be completely covered by the open source solution. While implementing the system, it is always necessary to bear in mind the total cost of ownership.

If customer requirements are well-defined we should rely on our experience when recommending the appropriate DMS system. The storage may be used for archiving documents, and unless there is no requirement for workflow processes or internal robust integration with other systems, we shouldn’t be afraid of using proven technologies such as MS SharePoint Foundation, Alfresco CE, ELO, as well as other open source solutions that are able to cover these requirements completely.

Another category is the implementation of a system where the customer expects the emphasis on speed, personal processing engine, ability to integrate with other systems, power, scalability, etc. In this case, we choose enterprise systems like IBM FileNet, EMC Documentum, Microsoft SharePoint or OpenText.

The shift in the legislation is good news for the market. Only time will tell how we can manage it, both DMS solution implementers and our customers.

Could Big Data Help Improve Your Journey To Work?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on September 23, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In November 2014 I was lucky enough to be invited to Minsk to visit the IBA development centre. I visited with the Ovum analyst Peter Ryan, who was over from Canada and possibly not feeling quite as cold as I was, after arriving from the Brazilian summer.

One of the projects I remember most from that visit was the ticketing system for the Minsk public transport system. IBA designed a complete solution for the bus and metro network that would comprise the cards, the card readers, the recharging systems, and all the software needed to make the system function. It was far more than just a software project and really showed how companies need to approach business solutions rather than technical challenges.

But the most interesting thing about the public transport system was not how it was delivered; rather it was what could be learned after implementation. Suddenly Minsk City Authorities had access to information on every bus of metro ride taking place across the entire city. When, where, and how journeys were being made was suddenly all being recorded and could be analysed.

The reality was that the data created by the software and hardware system was probably worth more than the system itself.

I was reminded of this when I saw in Forbes that commuters in Stockholm, Sweden, will soon be able to access similar data on the travel patterns in their own city. With the data on Stockholm travel passing through a Big Data analysis engine, it should be possible for commuters to see what will be happening on the public transport system two hours in the future.

This ability to predict the future will allow customers to change behaviour and avoid hot spots. Naturally this will change the predictions, but the system will be able to revise predictions in real-time.

Some commuters have complained about the move away from paper tickets and cash payments, but when anonymised commuter data can be collected and analysed in this way, new benefits become clear. I know that I would love to be able to see how the transport system will look where I live, even just one hour in the future.

Companies with Big Data expertise and city governments have the power to make the life of commuters so much easier – let’s hope more cities copy the example of Stockholm and Minsk.

Is This A Resurgence In Status For Nearshoring?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on September 3, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

New data published this month in Logistics Manager magazine has indicated that nearshoring is a strategy that is gaining in popularity – particularly in Europe. In their data, 56% of respondents indicate that they favour “rightshoring” over offshoring to the lowest possible cost location.

The Logistics Manager data is focused mainly on manufacturing businesses ensuring that their manufacturing facilities are as close as possible to the end customers while also balancing production costs, but the strategy can be applied equally to other industries. The reason for this is that what is actually changing is the way we manage supply chains.

Any hand-off of a process between different departments, or from one company to another, takes time and involves risk. This is true of services and manufacturing. When a process is passed between teams internally there is a risk of failure during the transition. This risk is multiplied when offshore outsourcing means that a process has to be handed to another organisation in another location – often far away on a different time zone.

The traditional metrics that decided how to organise an outsourcing strategy focus on three areas; what is the cost? Can the quality be maintained or improved? Can the time required to deliver be reduced so factors such as time-to-market can be improved?

Nearshoring has always had an advantage over more general offshoring in all of these metrics, except for the cost. But with a renewed emphasis on the supply chain, it may well be that the correct focus is the quality of the team, or service, anyway.

Low cost services are no good to any company if they don’t work. Imagine a luxury goods retailer using the cheapest possible contact centre company for the customer service? How would that reflect on the brand? Likewise, an innovative drug company would not want the cheapest, least innovative, technology service. What companies really need when they outsource today is a partner.

Partnership is what sales teams used to talk about before the sale, but it’s become a reality because what has actually happened is that companies providing different services into a supply chain have really become a part of the team. Outsourcing has become a standard strategy and companies have got so good at doing it they slot in and work as if they were a part of the client.

This means that nearshoring – as opposed to focusing on the cost only and offshoring – takes on a renewed importance. If you want a better price for services, but not necessarily the lowest, because the quality and time factors are most important then European companies working with partners in Europe becomes the ideal business solution.

What has really happened as outsourcing has matured is that the boundary of the organisation has become flexible. Instead of thinking of the client with a supplier, it’s better to now just think of the client having flexible organisational boundaries that include some of their own team and some suppliers – but whoever actually does the work, they all exist within the organisational boundary of the client.

This is a big change and it certainly makes nearshoring an attractive option. Have you considered the differences between nearshoring and offshoring in the context of the way that company supply chains have changed in the past few years? Please do leave a comment with your own ideas here.

Is There A Downside to The Internet of Things?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 18, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have often written here about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the promise it holds for various industries. Moving on from the cliché of the fridge that knows when you are running out of food, the IoT holds enormous promise for offering the ability for objects and systems to make pre-emptive decisions.

The car is a great example. We have long had warning lights on cars to indicate particular problems such as low oil or a high engine temperature, but by gathering data and having the ability to analyse it as a whole, cars are getting far more intelligent and able to self-diagnose before problems become serious. This becomes even more critical when public or commercial vehicles can perform this kind of self-diagnosis. For example a Boeing 777 can generate twenty terabytes of data per engine per hour – a fantastic resource for monitoring that all systems are functioning normally.

Personal fitness is another excellent example, and being a runner I really like the ability to be able to look back at previous runs. I can see not only the distance covered, but also the weather, the location, and the hills I tackled. I can use this information without additional processing just to plan new runs or I can crunch the data to get a great insight on my own performance.

But is there a downside to all this data collection and could it cause individuals to reject certain products or services?

Facebook Local Awareness advertising allows businesses – especially retailers – to advertise to Facebook users that are geographically close. The business creates an advert and targets it to a particular demographic – a specific age group or people who like certain products – then Facebook takes care of ensuring that when suitable people are geographically close to the business they are served an ad on their phone.

To some people this sounds great. If I’m the kind of person who likes shopping for fashionable clothes and as I walk past a boutique they send a 25% off voucher, but only with validity for the next hour, then I might stop by and buy something. To other people this is going to feel like an enormous invasion of privacy. Not only is a social network – in this case Facebook – monitoring what I like and dislike to build up a profile of me as a consumer, but now they are monitoring where I am too.

A recent feature by Irish technology expert Maria Farrell in The Guardian argued that by 2020 over 100 billion individual devices would be connected to the Internet. With around 7 billion people on the planet that’s around 14 online devices for every person. If anything, I believe that is a conservative estimate given the rate of change.

The implications for this are clear. Even if you don’t agree with the way that an organisation is using your data – perhaps like the retailer example – most people believe that there is nothing they can do. We have accepted so many services as ‘free’ knowing that we pay for them with our data and now that we have come this far there is almost nothing that can be done to reverse the situation.

In The Guardian, Farrell argues:

“The unholy alliance of CCTV, face recognition, mobile phones, fitness trackers and other wearable technologies, data brokerage and analytics, private ownership and control of previously public spaces like city squares, and increasingly wide-ranging policing powers mean we live in an urban world of ambient surveillance we never voted for. We are no longer citizens enjoying civic space; we are crops to be harvested, we are potential risks to be controlled. The internet of things does all that for us and more.”

The implication is that data will not always be used in the way we assume it might be. Health trackers that monitor runs might be informing health insurers about how you are looking after yourself. Cars might not just be self-diagnosing problems, but also telling your insurer if you drive aggressively. Credit scoring agencies might be building up a picture of your likes, dislikes, and habits in addition to spending patterns. Employers may be monitoring your every arrival, departure, and keystroke at the office.

Only the powerful can argue against this. The people who need a job or need to drive a regular or need a health insurer cannot refuse the terms and conditions that are demanded. If a health insurer demands that you offer information on your health habits in return for insurance cover then what can the average person possibly do to protest?

The Internet of Things has many clear benefits to society, but it is this question of data use and privacy that will cause many doubts to surface. Some have rejected social networks because they want to avoid sharing too much information about their life, but when information sharing becomes a condition of employment or insurance, it will be impossible to avoid.

Can we handle the implications of a world where everything is known about you as a person or is there still time to preserve some privacy?

Healthcare Is the Big Data Growth Engine

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on August 10, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In July this year, I ran 153km. My doctor would probably be pleased to see this, as it’s quite a good average of about one marathon every week. I was hoping to do even better in August, but I’ve not been very well so my figures are lower.

I know the distance covered because my iPhone has the Nike+ app. Not only is it recording the distance each time I run, but I can see where I went, the hills covered, the split times, average pace, the weather, and the type of terrain covered. Add an extra accessory, like the Apple Watch, and I could be tracking and recording my heart rate too.

Tools like this are the reality of concepts that we all see in technology journals – Big Data and the Internet of Things are two concepts that we read about all the time and yet they are often undefined or unclear.

Take another example related to health. The games company Nintendo is in the process of launching an entire suite of products related to “Quality of Life”. The first one is a box you can place by your bed as you sleep. It does not need to touch you, it just needs to be close, maybe by your bedside light and book.

The device monitors you as you sleep. It gathers data over time and compares it to other people and can recommend how you can improve your health. The device can give concrete advice (usually related to exercise or food) based on knowledge of the way people sleep and it does not even need to be worn.

All these devices are capturing enormous amounts of data that we never used to capture. In theory, open sharing of health-related data with health professionals should make their life easier and improve diagnosis for patients.

But it’s not always as easy as the technology suggests. A new paper in the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics explores Big Data use in healthcare and why it is taking longer than expected to achieve the promised benefits.

The real challenges are:

1. There is just so much data that is being stored. Most individual healthcare providers don’t know what to do with all the data they have – at that is just at individual company levels.
2. Finding a way to use the data is difficult. Most healthcare managers are not experts in the concepts of IoT being used to create data and Big Data expertise allowing the study of enormous databases.

The “Holy Grail” for healthcare providers is to be able to create an “Electronic Health Record”… a single key that then allows every possible piece of information on a single patient to be indexed. This would include traditional patient notes, but also any X-rays, MRI scans, performed over a lifetime. It would also include extra information, such as sleep patterns from a Nintendo device, exercise records from a Nike device, and a record of your pulse from the moment you are born to when you die.

Technologically we are there already. Mainstream equipment such as smart phones and smart watches are already making the data collection possible, but can the healthcare companies actually make sense of all the information they can access?

At present no, but it goes to show that healthcare is about to be one of the growth industries of the century. Populations are getting older and information technology is blending with normal life in a way that nobody could have imagined a decade ago.

Big Data and the IoT have a real and definable purpose in healthcare. Where do you think the next big healthcare innovation will take place?

Big Data Market Set to Grow 600% by 2019

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 21, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have talked a lot about Big Data on this blog. It is a technology that is now becoming normal and accepted in the enterprise, largely because of two factors:

1. The Internet of Things (IoT) means that every electronic device is becoming connected. Even light bulbs can now be assigned an IP address so you can connect them to a home control system. All these connected items generate vast amounts of data…

2. Consumer behaviour and their relationship to brands has been entirely reversed in the past five years, from brands offering a way to get in touch to consumers defining exactly how they want to review or criticise products. Now brands need to seek out comment and to engage wherever the customers are located.

There are many more factors, but I believe that these two broad changes are responsible for creating enormous amounts of data – amounts that seemed unfeasible a decade ago.

The industry analysts support this view. Ovum recently announced their own research, which indicates that from now until 2019 they predict that the Big Data market will grow 50% each year. Compounded annually this means that by 2019, the market for Big Data software and expertise will be six times bigger than it is now.

Six times. That’s a lot of market growth. The Ovum Big Data Practice Leader, and co-author of the report, Tom Pringle, said: “The experimental era of big data is coming to an end, organizations are formalizing their use of big data technology to realize the business value they expect to find.”

The important factor to note here is that Ovum is suggesting that the time for experimenting with Big Data is over. Many companies have tried it, toyed with open source software and systems, and experimented with the insights they can gain from Big Data analysis, but it is now proven that many companies need these insights.

The time has come to call in the experts.

Taking Mobile Tech From Home to Enterprise

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 8, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Think about the consumer technology that you regularly use today. You probably have a smart phone, maybe a Kindle or other e-reader, maybe an Apple Watch or similar device that can access information from your phone. Maybe your car can hook up to your phone to offer in-car information. Maybe you have an Amazon Echo at home so you can access the Internet just by speaking?

All these consumer devices are available today and are accepted as normal. Most consumers expect to have a device that gives them 24/7 access to all the services and information that the Internet can offer.

So why isn’t enterprise technology like this? Many companies still issue phones that are not even smart and laptops that are too heavy to really be portable. The concepts of cloud computing and app store flexibility remain conceptual in many organisations. Why?

The obvious answer is that consumers have far less to invest than large companies. When purchasing technology, a CIO needs to set the agenda for several years. If things change during that time it can be difficult to shift direction or to keep up with the change. Individuals don’t face this problem.

This has led to the popularity of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies in many companies, where employees are offering cash to use their own equipment instead of what the company can supply.

But a small change in the strategic mindset can also have a major benefit to the enterprise. Commissioning new software solutions as apps, rather than desktop tools can encourage the workforce to be mobile. This can even encourage companies to create entirely new solutions for customers.

An app developed by IBA for use by a bank in South Africa allows bank employees to sign up new customers on the move. They can photograph the customer using their phone and capture details which are then shared with the central system of the bank – no forms, no waiting for an appointment. The new customers, the mobile bank employees, and the bank executives all benefit from the app approach.

It used to be that enterprise technology was years ahead of what people had at home, but now the reverse is true. It’s time for more company executives to take inspiration from the tools they use everyday – how can we use mobile devices and other common personal technology to create better business solutions for our customers?

Improving client management

Making Sense of All That Data

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on June 24, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In my last blog I mentioned that Big Data has progressed far beyond just being a business buzzword. There are entire industries being shaken to their core because a leading player finds a way to analyse their customers better than their rivals. Far from being a management trend, this is a strategy that will fundamentally change many industries.

But have you ever stopped to appreciate just how much data we are creating today?

Some excellent analysis in Business Insider recently explored this question. The problem is that people and companies are just creating so much data – it is increasing at an exponential rate. At the present rate we are doubling the amount of digital data that exists every two years.

But even though we are creating and storing these enormous amounts of data, only 0.5% of it is being analysed. There is so much data out there that companies, governments, and individuals feel swamped, unable to gain insights from it.

The Business Insider article features a comment that cuts to the heart of the Big Data issue: “You have to start with a question and not with the data,” says Andreas Weigend, former Chief Scientist of Amazon, now director of the Social Data Lab and lecturer at UC Berkeley.
Businesses need to start thinking about the insights they could get from their customers, to ask more ‘what-if’ questions. There are solutions out there in the data, but it is impossible to analyse every byte of data.

A typical analogy for the average person might be the difference between email and Twitter. You check every email, even if it is only long enough to decide that it should be deleted. However, you only check Twitter messages that are arriving as you are looking at the news stream, or you use intelligent filters and analysis to ensure that interesting messages are made visible.

Businesses need to start thinking of their Big Data strategy in the same way. How can insights be drawn out from the data they already have?

Big Data Means Big Business

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on June 15, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Big Data is still just a buzzword for many people. Magazines and newspapers that do not cater strictly to a business audience continually need to explain what they mean when talking about the subject and the strong association with technology means that even some business leaders are still unaware of the true benefits.

But as with all technology projects and ideas, if they can be associated with actions that can improve a business, make it more efficient, deliver services faster, or create new products before competitors, then the leaders can see the advantage.

Forbes magazine recently documents a few examples that demonstrate some of the advantages. Carnival Cruises needs to plan the best way to serve passengers in much the same way as an airline does. However a cruise is a much longer journey than a flight and across all their ships and passengers, Carnival has 80 million cruise days per year. If they could just earn $1 per day extra from each passenger then that’s an immediate $80m boost to revenue.

That’s an example of how to analyse customer behaviour so products and services can be targeted more effectively. Retailers still do this with loyalty cards, although the idea of a loyalty card has been falling from fashion in recent years – customers are tired of giving away their personal data in return for very small benefits.

But data can also help to save money and improve service too. The Australian telco Telstra uses Big Data analysis on their entire network with predictive analysis so potential faults on lines, and in specific areas, can be identified before they happen. Outage time is reduced, engineers can be moved into position faster, and not only does the company save on maintenance, but the customer is happier too.

Every big business uses data today. Every business has the opportunity to analyse this data in a more effective way. There is always information available if you know how to dig deep into the data you have.

Business Intelligence is Being Led by Data Intelligence

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 26, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The analyst firm Gartner recently published some fascinating data trends in Forbes magazine. They summarised how important Big Data is becoming for business intelligence in three clear trends:

1. By 2020, information will be used to reinvent, digitalize or eliminate 80% of business processes and products from a decade earlier.

2. By 2017, more than 30% of enterprise access to broadly based big data will be via intermediary data broker services, serving context to business decisions.

3. By 2017, more than 20% of customer-facing analytic deployments will provide product tracking information leveraging the IoT.

These trends are exciting because what they point to is how communication is changing between individuals and how this is now affecting the way that companies do business.

Mobile, social, cloud, and shared information are all forces that have really only grown in importance over the past 5-6 years. Many company leaders have not realised how all these factors will change the way that companies do business and how decisions from new products to choosing a partner company will all be data-led.

The Gartner predictions are point at corporate behaviours just 18 months in the future. Have you explored how your own organisation is using data today and if not then can you be sure that your competitors will not be making better business decisions a year from now?

Outsourcing Trends Becoming Important in 2015

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 14, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I was recently asked about the classic price vs service argument by a consultant who advises on IT outsourcing. I replied that I am surprised there is still a debate over this. You can compare IT supplier based on the quality of what they do and then compare equally competent suppliers on price, but price is not a primary variable that should be used to compare companies.

After all, if the service delivered does not work then how much have you saved? The price debate reminds me of where IT outsourcing was a decade ago – it was surprising to be asked about this in 2015 when most organisations have a far more mature approach to finding expert partners.

I looked at CIO magazine to see what they considered the key trends in IT outsourcing would be this year. They published a good summary at the beginning of the year and never once mentioned that price would be an important comparison point.

Several of the trends they identified are very important though and I don’t feel that they are being given enough focus in the business and technology media:

1. A focus on outcomes: outcome based pricing has been around for years, but is often focused on BPO outsourcing where specific business processes can be priced. A focus on the outcome rather than process of delivering IT will be how many projects are charged in future.

2. The business ordering direct. The CIO used to manage all information systems, but now the business units are doing far more ordering direct because many solutions can be delivered using apps or the cloud, therefore not impacting on the infrastructure managed by the CIO. This means that suppliers need to develop new relationships and change their sales strategy.

3. Analytics taking over. In areas such as CRM and customer service technology systems data is all that matters now. This approach to data-led decision-making is affecting many business functions including the more creative ones such as sales and marketing.

The IT outsourcing trends are changing and developing as the IT services space develops, but sometimes it seems that the advisors cannot escape some of the old debates.

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Social networks have evolved rapidly over the past few years. In the last decade tools like Myspace were primarily used for sharing pictures and messages with friends – the social aspect of the network was the primary reason to use it. Facebook took over and sharing cat videos remained an extremely popular pastime.

But now companies are using these same networks to interact with customers. Brands got used to watching out for content on blogs and then the review sites, as well as tweets and Facebook. The past half a decade or so has seen an enormous change in the way that corporate and customer relationships work and it looks like Facebook may be about to define the next wave of change.

The Facebook Messenger app has been around for a few years now. It’s a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and in many ways removes the need to know the phone number of your friends because messages are all relayed through the Facebook system – even though the app functions entirely separately from the main Facebook app.

A new development called “Business on Messenger” is aimed at making the app a hub for customers and companies. Companies will be able to take orders on Messenger, send out order confirmations, send shipping status updates, track deliveries and customers will be able to directly send questions to sellers.

All this functionality will be offered to companies to use in a flexible way that works best for their business. For the customer these developments are welcome. Facebook is encouraging developers to build new apps around the messenger API so it looks like companies will be able to create a complete customer messaging system using the building blocks Facebook makes available.

In some markets the WhatsApp messenger has already become an important tool for brands to talk with customers – and Facebook already owns that app. I fully expect the two messenger services to be blended at some point, with the addition of all these added features that will make this a real hub for customers interacting with companies.

Will companies buy into the service from Facebook? I expect that they will because to build this infrastructure internally is very expensive. The end result is that companies will be able to get a very low cost customer management system, but it will mean that more customers will be tied into using Facebook – whether they want to or not.

IAOP Recognizes IBA Group in New Global Outsourcing 100

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on April 22, 2015

IBA Group
Irina Kiptikova

On April 16, the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (www.iaop.org) released the second blog article devoted to The Global Outsourcing 100® list. This article recognizes companies for innovation programs.

The Programs for Innovation category of the IAOP’s Global Outsourcing 100 focuses not just on specific examples but on the programs that service providers and advisors have in place to identify and implement innovative solutions.

Today’s customers demand innovation from their providers and the outsourcing industry is looking for new ways to meet this growing demand. IAOP evaluated programs for innovation in The Global Outsourcing 100 for the first time.

IBA Group earned the highest 8 points in this category. The company received a full star recognition and its achievements in innovation were marked as the ‘Highest Rated’. This accomplishment looks especially impressive because the average score for innovation of the participating companies was 3.52.

IBA Group showed in its application that innovation is not a one-shot job for the company. IBA Group set up a Committee for Innovations headed by the IBA Group Chairman and created a company-wide Registry of Innovations. A special procedure on how to apply and approve or reject the ideas was implemented in the IBA intranet and a special venture fund was formed to finance the innovation procedure.

IBA Group implemented many successful initiatives through this procedure, including a mobile version of the IBA’s enterprise content management system and an Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system that earned a European IT & Software Excellence award for IBA Group.

Read IAOP Blog

IAOP Recognizes IBA Group for Delivery Excellence

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on April 16, 2015

IBA Group
Irina Kiptikova

The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals launched a series of blogs devoted to The Global Outsourcing 100® list that recognizes the world’s best outsourcing service providers and advisors. The blog articles are focused on the four judging categories of The Global Outsourcing 100 and on what it takes for companies not only to make the list, but to achieve distinguishing ‘stars’.

“Hip hip hooray…it’s not the New Year but it sure does feel like it around here with the buzz and excitement of IAOP’s 10th edition of The Global Outsourcing 100®!” – This is how IAOP opens its first series of blogs on The Global Outsourcing 100.

Each organization completed a rigorous, opt-in application to compete for inclusion in The Global Outsourcing 100. The achievements were assessed based on the following four distinct areas: Delivery; Programs for Innovation; Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); and Size & Growth. Those companies that have distinguished themselves receive half or full stars in one or more specific judging category.

IBA Group has been enrolled in the rating, which is actually organized as a contest since 2006. The list has been evolving and the rules have been changing, but IBA and other outsourcing providers keep applying to be among the best 100. It is not only a good chance to receive exposure. It is also an opportunity to see how the company is doing against others and to set targets for improvement.

The first blog article by IAOP is devoted to the Delivery Excellence judging category. The category includes company recognitions, customer references, company certifications, and the number of Certified Outsourcing Professionals on staff.

Delivery Excellence is a strong area for IBA Group. This year, the company received the score 7.25 for delivery excellence of the highest 8 points. It is a distinguishing accomplishment, given that the average score of the participating companies in this category was 5.86. IAOP awarded IBA Group a half star for Delivery Excellence.

Read IAOP blog

The future for IT – apps in the cloud?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on April 7, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Technology is continuously evolving at such a rapid rate – it is impossible to predict with any certainty how it will impact on our lives in coming years. When people make predictions about how technology will evolve, try this exercise. Look back ten years and think of all the technologies you take for granted today: social networks, smart phones, mobile Internet, tablet computing. None of them existed even a decade ago – or were so nascent an elite few were the only users.

Think back a decade more and you will find yourself at the birth of the web. Adverts for major consumer products did not even feature URLs until the late 1990s. Now you see how difficult it is to predict what technologies will be common by 2015.

There will always be winners and losers in the search for new ways to use technology to achieve business success. The downfall of companies such as Nokia, Kodak, and Blackberry illustrate the consequences of not understanding how society is changing and using new technologies.

But one development that is likely to evolve further is technology outsourcing. As the world becomes more complex, it is even more unlikely that companies will retain the right kind of expertise internally. IT services will be outsourced more often because only the IT companies understand the complex technological solutions – rather than some of the drivers we saw a decade ago, such as labour arbitrage.

The globalization of IT is itself becoming more complex anyway. There are still IT service companies all over the world offering their services, but now they don’t always need to directly contract with a customer to provide a specific service. The cloud-based model allows service providers to offer a specific service – storage or computing power – that can be turned on and off as desired. The app store model many people use on their phone can also be used in the enterprise to create an environment where end users on the business front-end (not the IT department) can choose and install technology solutions themselves.

Change is taking place fast in the IT services market and nobody can predict how it will look in ten years, but one thing is for certain, IT experts need to offer a variety of delivery methods because enterprise IT is borrowing many of the ideas that consumers are already familiar with.

European IT Excellence Awards and IT Developments

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on April 1, 2015

IBA Group
Irina Kiptikova

Last Wednesday, IBA Group was awarded for implementing the best vertical solution of the year. It happened at a gala reception organized by IT Europa to recognize the winners of the European IT & Software Excellence 2015 Awards.
Gyles Daubeney Brandreth, an English writer, broadcaster, and actor announced the results to the audience of more than 350 contestants and their colleagues, friends and families. Winners were selected from 83 finalists that represented 32 European countries. IBA was honored to be one of the winners.

We nominated one project in two categories. Those were Vertical Solution of the Year, and Public Sector and Utilities Solution of the Year. In both categories, IBA Group competed with six other finalists for an award. The Vertical Solution of the Year category turned out to be award-winning for IBA. Congratulations to the winning IBA team!

IBA Award-Winning Team

IBA Award-Winning Team

This year’s award was specific for IBA Group because the winning solution comprises not only software but both software and hardware. The solution was an Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system. All of us who are passengers of the Minsk public transport tested the solution. Visitors of the 2014 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship held in Minsk last year were among those who tried the AFC system in practice.

The project posed many challenges for the IBA team as they had to find answers to quite a few questions. Minsk has different types of public transport, each with specific features. How should we handle the specifics? Should the AFC be fully automated or use fare collectors? Should it use the internet as a communication channel? Which security technology is most suitable? Passengers prefer to use single paper tickets instead of transport cards. Will they agree to change their habits?

However, all these issues were solved and the system was launched. Today it is easy and comfortable to use. Passengers enjoy tapping their cards on validators and ticket inspectors produce proudly their automatic terminals to check the fares. The city authorities are able to analyze the operation of the public transport. This solution is just one example of how IT can improve people’s life.

The European Software & Solutions Summit that IT Europa conducted right before the Awards focused on the changes that the IT industry should be able to accommodate.

ISV Convention

ISV Convention

Presenters from Gartner, Oracle, HP, and other market leaders spoke of the new buyers and how their behavior has changed in the past 20 years. John Chapman of IT Europa said that we live in a new world. It is an interconnected world, where equipment and customers become connected. Gartner predicted that 75B products will be connected by 2020.

Oracle went on to say that Everything as a Service (XaaS) is becoming the preferred consumption model and every company is becoming a software company. Even cloud computing is no longer the same. It is evolving towards a fully integrated digital platform, argued Interoute.

Those businesses that adopt new technologies quicker than others are more likely to have experienced higher growth, concluded Verizon and IBA Group is looking to work with such customers.

IBA Group and IT Europa

IBA Group and IT Europa

For more information about the Awards, visit our website and IT Europa.

Will Social Networking Transform Customer Loyalty?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on March 23, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In my last blog, I mentioned that social networking technologies are changing how many companies use CRM. Opportunities are created to have a much deeper relationship with customers than was ever possible before and this goes far beyond just CRM alone.

But what is it that any company really wants? Why do they invest in all these technologies in the first place? There are many reasons, such as improving the customer experience, but possibly the most important is to generate customer loyalty. It costs far more to attract new customers to your business than to just keep the existing ones happy, so managing loyalty is important.

And as customers we all know about loyalty schemes. You probably have loyalty cards for your favourite hotel chain, airline, coffee store, bookstore, and supermarket. Every type of business tries giving away points and prizes to encourage loyalty.

The problem is that academics now believe that our present focus on loyalty through loyalty programmes doesn’t work very well. Take airlines for example. There are really only three major airline alliances, Star Alliance, One World, and SkyTeam. Serious business travellers just take a membership with all of them so they always collect points regardless of the airline used.

Most people use the supermarket that is closest to their home rather than travelling much further because they have a loyalty card from another store. Most of the time these loyalty cards don’t really create very much brand loyalty.

Smart companies today are looking at their CRM data and using a ‘buzz monitoring’ platform to analyse the social networks and then interacting with customers based on the information they can glean from the customer behaviour data. In effect, what is happening is that companies who know their customers well are able to use the data to create customer loyalty gifts and rewards that are targeted at the individual customer – not just points that every customer earns.

This is a big change in behaviour for many companies and it will be the back office technology that drives the information for this to work, but it is a natural shift. Customers have greater expectations on brands today and the first time a brand responds and rewards you in a unique and individual way will create a ‘wow’ moment for many customers.

It is these interactions based on data that will drive customer loyalty in future, not loyalty cards. Has any major brand ever rewarded you based on their knowledge of behaviour and how did that make you feel?

Mixing Social Networking with CRM

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on March 17, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Social media is maturing and becoming an important part of the supply chain for many businesses. In areas like the media it is clearly a strong communication channel between content creators and their customers, but in other industries there has been an even deeper use of the technologies.

Take retail as a good example. For decades retailers have combined loyalty cards with CRM technologies to try predicting customer behaviour and to drive loyalty to certain products. There are many examples of retailers knowing individual customers better than their own family because of the data collected during their shopping trips.

A famous example is the US retailer Target sending discount coupons for products a new mother might want to a teenage girl. Her father was outraged, but he apologised to the retailer when his daughter confessed that she was in fact pregnant. The CRM system knew it before the father.

But traditional CRM has always relied on actual purchases and visits to the store. There had to be an actual interaction with a retailer to generate data that could then be analysed. With social networks and social media uploads customers provide information on their likes, desires, and preferences without even visiting the store.

This is a fantastic opportunity for retailers who can integrate social channels into their existing CRM. In addition to actual purchases, discounts and offers can be tailored to include preferences and the general sentiment of an entire group of customers.

It does require a different approach. Some kind of community management is usually needed for the retailer areas – such as the corporate Facebook page – and new software capable of ‘buzz monitoring’ other areas of the Internet has to be applied. But the opportunity for retailers of knowing their customers even better through the use of better technology systems is clear.

The same opportunity exists across all sectors – try searching for online discussions about your company name or products today. I’m sure you will find people talking about them. Now the question is, are they saying good things and if not, what do you do next to engage those customers?

Are you engaging with customers using social networking and how different is this data-driven approach to the old idea of a customer service team?

When Will CRM Finally Work Properly?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on March 3, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Companies such as banks have complained for years that their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system doesn’t really work. The systems are expensive and yet they rarely return what was promised when the sales team demonstrated what could be achieved.

But I think that often, the real point of CRM has been lost somewhere between the software company sales pitch, the implementation, and the end user trying to make sense of how the system operates. Take a look at this article in The Financial Brand magazine… it lists 6 important reasons why you should be reconsidering CRM. The first reason asks these questions:

“How will the data in the CRM benefit my customer?”
“How can I use this to speed up our process, to benefit my customer?”
“What events could be triggered using this data to help my customer?”
“Is there info that can be gained from the data that would help me do what is best for my customer.”
“How can my sales team best use the data to identify opportunities to help my customer?”

I entirely support this view. If the CRM system is not entirely focused on planning how processes and data can benefit the customer then there is no value in the system.

I would go further and argue that with the abilities we now have, CRM expectations should be much higher. Think of your mobile phone company as a good example. They probably offer you a monthly tariff on a fixed contract that offers a certain amount of minutes talk-time, texts, and Internet access.

But if you use too much Internet time or talk too much the customer usually gets hit with penalties – or very high per minute costs.

Yet, why would any company want to do this to a customer? You want to help the customer, not hit them with penalties surely? Why not use the data that you have on how this customer behaves – how many minutes they use on average each month, how much Internet data they use – and offer a special tariff designed just for that individual customer?
We have the Big Data expertise to do this and the CRM systems, but there has rarely been a connection between the data and how it can truly help the customer. For companies that want to succeed today, this has to change.

Crowdsourcing and Big Data Can Come Together

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on February 11, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Could Big Data help the buses in New York run on time? That’s what one city politician is hoping for. New York City Council Member Ben Kallos has campaigned for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to openly release all their data on bus arrival and departure times.

Kallos is convinced that the buses never run on time. When he has complained in the past to the MTA they have always suggested that he is wrong. He managed to obtain three months worth of bus data and with the help of some data analysts he proved that the buses only ran on time 58% of the time.

The MTA has pleaded that the data is in a difficult format for it to be quickly released to the public so his project has not moved further than this pilot stage, but this demonstrates the power of citizens and politicians understanding how much data is available from public bodies.

London has released live position data for their buses for several years now. Anyone can create a Google map like this, showing the real-time position of all the buses in the city.

Some of these online maps may appear to have no purpose other than to astonish the viewer – look at how much data is available! However, when politicians start using Big Data projects to help citizens then the value of Big Data is clearly going mainstream and being understood by the general public.

Find Business Everywhere

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on February 2, 2015

IBA Gomel
Iryna Zhurava

Keeping log of business relationships is not only the concern of a salesperson but also of everyone who has to work with clients, vendors or suppliers. It is not a newsflash that with the evolved technology there is no more need for long paper forms, notebooks, and business card holders and everything can be stored in a mobile device.

People from different divisions within IBA Group were looking for a mobile application that is easy to use, can store safely business information of a contact person and a summary of the conversation, can get more information about the interlocutor’s company form social media, can be useful in one-on-one meetings and trade fairs, and has other advantages. There are mobile applications that do that stuff, but not all of them together.

Our developers took the challenge and came up with a mobile application for iPhone and iPad called Marketing Application for Leads at Events (IBA.MALE). This application provides a solution for the following requirements:

• Use at events: upload a list of possible persons who will be at that event
• Capture and store interlocutor’s business information:

o by scanning of a business card and recognition of the text on it
o by scanning and recognition of a barcode or QR code and matching these with the person’s data in the pre-uploaded list
o by manual entry of information

• Receive online information on interlocutor’s company. The application allows for retrieving information on the contact person from LinkedIn online. It takes less than a minute
• Log the conversation summary
• Easy search of contacts by name, title, location or interests
• Export of contacts via email or Bluetooth.

With an existing free version of the application IBA.MALE Light you can check most capabilities of the application and decide whether to buy a full version of the application located at IBA.MALE.

Did We Forget How to Query Databases?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 20, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Author of The Analytics Revolution, Bill Franks, recently wrote a fascinating exploration of database structure in Forbes magazine. This might sound like an oxymoron – database structure and interesting – but bear with me.
When most people think of databases they think of relational data – fields of information. A database captures specific information such as name, address, phone number, all in a certain way so each field of information conforms to certain standards such as type (text or numbers) and length.

If you have never designed a database then think of it like this, you have rows of information that are the records of data – let’s say each one describes a customer. Then you have columns of information, each one is a field of data like a phone number or email address. So each record contains many fields… each “person” has a name, phone number, address… and so on.

For many years now the standard way of querying a relational database like this has been SQL – Structured Query Language. SQL is a series of commands and tools that make it possible to logically extract information from a database, in simple terms if you want to extract all the entries from a list of personal details where the date of birth is before 1980 then it’s a simple query. It’s just like asking a question and the database returns the answer.

But in the world of Big Data most of our assumptions around how a database is formed and how we can query it are different. There may be no fixed structure in a universe of data that is constantly expanding and changing. This makes the process of querying a Big Data set very different.

Of course this has been well known and many tools already exist that help to support Big Data analysis, but what Franks is arguing is that the skills and tools we need today are what we used to have before SQL became accepted as the standard way to interact with a database. Before we got all organized and relational, people had to query data in a much less structured way.

His book addresses this in more detail, but I find it fascinating that we can sometimes forget what we already knew about accessing data. Perhaps there will be a greater demand for people who can remember how data was queried before SQL became commonly used? It’s an interesting idea and goes to show that, in technology, the new is not always new.

The Internet of Things Takes Off at CES 2015

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 13, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking off at the Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas. The CES is the biggest annual consumer electronics show in the world and often manages to set the agenda for the technologies that will be important in the coming year.

The IoT has been talked of for several years as ‘the next big thing’ in technology. It refers to when everything electronic is connected to the Internet and able to share information in a much more open way than is possible now.

The example often used is a digital fridge that can advise when milk is running low or what you can cook for dinner with the food you currently have, but this is not a good example at all and fails to see how fundamental the IoT could be.

If everything we touch is connected then we will live in a different world. Your phone, car, watch, heart monitor, shoes, just about everything you interact with will be generating information. Your insurance company will know when and where you drive your car. Your employer will know when you are at the office and when you are at home. Your doctor will be able to monitor your health without requiring a visit to the hospital. Your car will alert the dealer directly when there is a problem that cannot be resolved at home.

Many of these actions can be taken now. The ethos of the IoT is just that we will see much more communication from the objects we interact with and that there will be communication between objects. For example, your electricity meter may actually check with electrical items in your house and send a report on which appliances use the most power.

In theory the IoT is a revolution in communication in the same way that the Internet itself created an open communication platform. However, the big danger is that different companies use different protocols and methods of communication.

The CEO of Samsung used his own speech at CES this week to suggest that every Samsung product will be using entirely open IoT data platforms within 5 years. With this kind of leadership, hopefully smaller companies will follow and ensure that all their products are open.

The possibilities for the IT industry are endless. IoT will generate vast amounts of data, therefore the principles and expertise needed to manage Big Data will be important, but when this relates to customers then linking in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) aspect will also be essential.

IT projects are going to multiply in the coming years. Products that were never previously connected or never required software – a kettle for example – may require new software and systems so that you can send a message from your phone on the way home, so a boiled kettle is ready and waiting for you.

If the CES predictions are correct, 2015 is going to be the year that IoT finally goes mainstream.

Predictions for IT services in 2015

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on January 6, 2015

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The industry analyst Gartner recently published their predictions for technology in 2015. It’s an eclectic list that includes such announcements as 90% of consumer product companies using 3D printing for personalised products and digital disruptions being created by algorithms.

Of course every analyst and pundit is making their predictions now and so if I am going to add to this end of year commentary then I would suggest the following for IT services.

I can see four broad areas where technology products and services will boom in the next year or two:

    Health; particularly remote access to doctors, and wearable monitoring technologies. Health care technology is advancing so rapidly that we will see average life expectancy rates rapidly increase in the next decade.

    War; the world is becoming more unstable and cyber crime (such as the recent Sony hacking) is becoming an issue of national security. War will increasingly rely on technology as much as soldiers and missiles.

    Privacy; since the Edward Snowden revelations, people have become more concerned about their own privacy and the use of their personal data by corporations and government. This will create issues for industries such as advertising and yet create new opportunities for those who can help to preserve anonymity or confidentiality.

    Government; consumers have a greater expectation on their governments, both as democratic legislators and as providers of public services. Both will be dramatically changed through the use of technology with services improving and greater access to information.

    The traditional market for IT services has already changed from what we saw in the past decade. I visited IBA recently and learned how some of their projects are more valuable after deployment because they can then capture and utilise user or customer data – the real value is in the data not the fee for building the system.

    Based on what we have seen recently I believe there will be three major factors that continue to exert major pressure for change on how IT services are delivered:

    Contract flexibility; the old days of very tight SLAs and KPIs have to end because the world moves just too fast for service partners to be relying on measures that might have been designed a couple of years earlier. This is particularly important in industries that are changing month by month – customer service technology for example. IT service companies have talked for years about being ‘partners’ – now they need to truly design contracts that reflect this partnership model because tight contracts are too restrictive for the modern world.

    The app store model will continue to develop in the enterprise. Consumers are used to using apps and IT service companies need to consider how services can be bundled into the same kind of structure for the enterprise.

    The cloud will continue to dominate areas such as storage, but with complex services such as ERP and CRM all available via cloud based tools, is there anything that cannot be delivered this way? We will see every possible option explored soon.

    I think these are the three main drivers within the IT service space at present. Earlier ideas about IT outsourcing being cost-driven and with many concerns about the development location feel dated now. Nobody cares that Skype was developed in Estonia, Angry Birds was developed in Finland, Tweetdeck was developed in London, and Waze was developed in Israel.

    More broadly, as Gartner suggests, we will feel the impact of technology far more on our daily lives whether we are involved in the technology industry or not. Think of many normal activities; choosing a political leader, finding the best price for a new car, finding a new partner, studying for a new degree, reading the news, almost every activity we undertake now engages us in technology. Almost everyone is a technology user and this penetration into every part of society means that for those of us who do work with technology, there is a bright future – every other industry depends completely on technology today.

    Have a great holiday season and enjoy the start of 2015. There will be more comment on the blog in the New Year!

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?

View my slides

Listen to my talk here

Listen to Peter’s talk

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.

See video of Peter talking about the ICT sector in Belarus

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.