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!
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.
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.
For more information about the Awards, visit http://ibagroupit.com/en/newsroom/news/it-europa30-03-15.html and http://www.iteuropa.com/?q=winners-european-it-software-excellence-awards-2015-announced
by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on March 23, 2015
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?