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.
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 (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.
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:
• 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!
by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on December 23, 2014
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?
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.
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.
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 does have some distinct advantages for the technology industry that are not obvious unless you have explored Belarus in person. During the Soviet era, Belarus was the IT and technology hub for the entire USSR. Belarus supplied over 60% of all the IT and technology systems used in the Soviet Union meaning that there is a long heritage of technology knowledge as well as deep expertise in a variety of technologies.
This heritage of working with technology may also explain an important cultural difference with other technology hubs, such as India. When teams of techies are assigned to a project in Belarus they usually feature a range of ages, experience, and knowledge of many technologies. The culture of being an engineer or technician remains strong in Belarus, so an expert programmer doesn’t feel shame in remaining ‘just’ a programmer and not pushing for promotion to systems analyst or project manager.
This is a big difference in my opinion. I have worked with many software development teams and trying to maintain some stability was always a challenge with people quitting for a few bucks extra at a competitor down the road or angling for promotion just because their family believe it’s time they had a ‘better’ job title.
The autocratic nature of the Belarus government counts against the international image of the country – this cannot be denied. However, I asked several people about the reality of living there and everyone I talked to dismissed the ‘last dictatorship of Europe’ mantra as a cliché.
The government doesn’t like political opposition very much, but is extremely supportive of international business and it struck me that it would be hard to criticise Belarus and then feel comfortable doing business in China, Singapore, or Vietnam. All countries where the government is far more controlling than Western Europeans are used to and yet it cannot be argued that the regular man on the street is oppressed in any way in Belarus.
I went to Belarus to learn more about the IT industry there, and I learned far more than I expected to. It is certainly a place worth considering for any organisation that needs expertise with a few knowledgeable “grey beards” on the same team as the young technology wizards.
I also reinforced the experience I have had in the past of prejudice and preconception about places. Places that I have worked in the past include Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka. Countries that often suffer negative stereotyping and yet were ready for business when I visited.
Belarus is the same. I’d love to return and perhaps take the train from Minsk to Moscow. I believe that anyone involved in IT, or the services supported by technology, should take a look. But maybe go and visit in the summer because that cold wind doesn’t care how many jackets you are wearing!
Minsk, November 25, 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. For more details, click here.
Alex Minkevich, PMP®
Agile is beautiful. Agile is our all. Both developers and customers like Agile. However, there are projects or project phases for which Agile doesn’t work or is worse than the old good Waterfall. In my projects, developers intuitively feel when Agile can work and when it can’t, and it’s time to transfer from Waterfall to Scrum or the other way around. Why and actually when should we do it?
In this article, I would like to discuss project success from a business perspective and not from a developer perspective. What’s the difference? It is very simple. In the view of a service provider team, a project is a success when the application met customer requirements, the client signed the acceptance certificate, paid the money, and the developers received salaries and bonuses.
As for business, a project is a success if it helped achieve a business goal, for which it was approved. It might be earning profit, releasing a new product or service, gaining a market share, meeting law requirements, or serving a social need. A business goal should be achieved on time. It means the time is always limited and quality standards are are high. Imagine you are a customer and let’s see when Agile is not working or working but not that good:
1) Scope of work. A bullshit input leads to a bullshit output. Let me give you a small example here. I am making a small web project. Imagine a dialogue between myself and the developer.
– Are there any requirements?
– No… (face palm)
– I see. Then we use Agile!
This sort of dialogue is quite typical. Agile is good when there are no clear-cut requirements. However, how can one start a project, if there is no understanding, what he or she wants to get? Each value should have a price. If there’s no price, there’s no value. The customer does not want to pay for clear requirements from the very beginning. There’s no time for that. But there is a strong wish to go ahead…. Then one should understand that the requirements will be born in hard labor of many iterations and the customer will have to pay for them anyway. There will be additional cost of rework because something will be done in the way we did not want it to be and changes and revisions will be needed.
It is good, if the project is small and you have excellent communication with the developer, are on the same wavelength and quick on the uptake. What if the things are opposite? The project is big and you are based in the UK, while the developer team is in Belarus. There might be many iterations and revisions. The team will fall behind the schedule and customer requirements will be labeled first as Customer Requirements, then as Urgent Customer Requirements, Customer Troubles, Customer Pain in production… You understand what I mean.
2) The key question is: When will this come to an end? Those who did repairs at home can understand me. “A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” (A GUIDE TO THE PROJECT MANAGEMENT BODY OF KNOWLEDGE PMBOK® Guide, Fifth Edition, Page 3)
‘Temporary’ is a key word in the project definition. Agile does not give strict schedules. If I don’t understand what I want to achieve, how can I know when I will complete it? Therefore, an Agile project cannot be completed. It can just be stopped. Any business person wants his or her project to be completed successfully and not just stopped after 80 percent of the top priority backlog is implemented. It is also clear that there is a direct correlation between falling behind the schedule and a price increase.
3) Management of cross-functional teams. If there is one team of 5-7 people, it makes no problem to manage it. What if these are cross-functional teams? The frontend is in Minsk, the backend team is on the customer site in South Africa, the testing team is in India … The planning and coordination for the customer/project manager becomes a nightmare. One should have iron nerves and fanatic energy to make the work run smoothly. Only a few people can do that.
4) The last but the most important thought in my view is the following: “Agile helps chop off illusions but such project is like trying to catch a rabbit running in circles. We are doing what we can do to meet the current business needs and we are not thinking about what business will need tomorrow.”
© Dmitriy Bezugly http://www.system-approach.ru/
It is clear. I talked a lot with businesspeople in the last two years. These guys want all or nothing. There’s no grey for them, just black or white. By meeting the today’s business needs, you are closing the gaps in the current operations and doing nothing for the future business. To make a solution that will be on demand in a year, one should sit down and think hard, and then document the thoughts as requirements.
Conclusions. We should do what everyone is already doing. We should mix methodologies on different projects and even inside one project. Let it be Waterfall or RUP when you define project requirements, then we can go ahead and use Agile for development, back to Waterfall or RUP when we go to production. The requirements should be developed before DD.MMM.YYYY, the backend with the defined functionality prepared before DD.MMM.YYYY, three weeks from October 6 to October 24 are allocated for testing, and then exactly three weeks for go-live. It is strict and accurate project management in its classical sense.
Which technology to use, be it Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall or RUP is not important. One should be guided by common sense and specific conditions of a specific project. Remember that the aim should be achieving business goals of the customer and not getting as much money or person-hours from the customer as we can. Otherwise, how would we be different from others?
by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on October 28, 2014
Lavy Itzhaky, PMP®
In one of my last projects, where I was asked to step in as a project manager, there was almost everything to make the project a failure from the very beginning. The customer and management were unhappy, the project team was blamed for everything, and other small things topped the list of shortcomings. But eventually this project was submitted to the client on time and to the client’s satisfaction.
The secret in putting the failing project back on track is not in magic or sleepless nights or a magnificent project manager. In this particular project, the secret was in making people do their job and not to expect them to do something they were not hired for. You cannot expect a junior developer to have calls with the customer for clarifying the requirements or providing the project status. It’s not that I don’t trust the guys. They are great developers but they do not speak the same language the customer does.
As a friend of mine told me, a project team is an orchestra, where everyone in it has an individual role to play and there are people behind the scene who also contribute to the success of the orchestra performance, the and project manager is the conductor, who has to make sure that everyone is doing an assigned role. The Business Analyst gets the requirements from the customer and “translates” them to the developers, the Architect defines the architecture of the software solution, the developers develop it, and the testers test it.
In the above example, the main problem was with too many communication channels, when a developer talks directly with the customer and provides him or her with the project status, wrongly assuming the developer knows everything and not only the assigned part. This may serve as a recipe for misunderstanding and trouble in the project. Everyone in the project has to be responsible enough to do his/her own job and not let personal (possible) ambitions ruin project.
Everyone needs to do their own part in the “orchestra” of the project. They can and should evolve and learn new stuff but in cooperation with the “conductor”. Otherwise, it will negatively impact the project.
As I said in my post entitled Manager in every one of us, evolve yourself, become a better specialist, become a manager, but DON’T STOP!