How Technology Companies Are Delivering A Wave Of CX Innovation

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It’s always great to see when the new issue of Intelligent Sourcing arrives. It’s updated all the time online, but there is still something nice about seeing a collection of news bound together in a real magazine. I know that’s old fashioned, but a quarterly business journal is like a collection of thoughts from that time.

The issue is focused on innovation and I contributed a column that you can read if you click the later link to the magazine. Although my article was a focus on Customer Experience (CX) innovation, as I read it again I noticed that so many of the specific innovations I was documenting require technology expertise.

This is quite a change from the days when customer experience was called customer service and involved nothing more than a contact centre full of phones. Handling interactions between customers and brands today is highly complex and operates across a number of channels. Here are some of the key areas shaping CX innovation today as outlined in the Intelligent Sourcing feature:

Customer expectations and journey; interacting with customers today takes place 24/7 across many different channels (including social) and involves thinking about a 50-year ongoing relationship with the customer, not just managing a single phone call.

Technology; almost every emerging technology you can think of is being applied to the customer relationship. To list just a few – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Robotics, location awareness, cloud computing, the app store. All these technologies are being shaped and influenced by the way that brands are using them to interact with real customers.

Automation; Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is being extensively deployed as a tool to make customer service agents more efficient. The blend between digital service and human service is now one of the most important areas of research in this field.

Customer-centricity; new companies can design their entire service around what customers want in an age of smartphones. There is no need to copy how a bank or insurance company operates – especially if they designed their processes many years ago. This is having an enormous impact on traditional brands that are being challenged by brand new companies that can deliver services better.

CX and Business Process Outsourcing is often presented as an entirely separate type of business that is unconnected to what IT service companies are doing, but I believe that most of the innovation taking place in CX is being driven by IT. In fact, many of the IT experts are now becoming experts in areas such as RPA and that means they are rapidly becoming CX experts. The market for technology services is changing and CX innovation is creating many of these new opportunities.

Spring issue of Intelligent Sourcing

CX and technology

When Will Your HR Team Start Learning To Code?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

There are many emerging technologies that are not only changing the workplace, but changing the way that jobs are structured and the skills that modern (or future) employees need. I believe that three of the most important changes taking place at present include:

1.    Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace
2.    Remote working
3.    Creating tribes

There are technologies and systems emerging, such as AI in business application support, that are fundamentally changing how corporate processes function – and this changes the skills that people in professional jobs need. Employees need to become comfortable with the idea of AI delivering performance feedback, personal development, coaching and evaluation. This offers many advantages to both employee and employer, but it can still face resistance by some employees, especially when they feel it will change their job.

Forbes magazine recently published data from a study by the Center for Effective Organizations at USC Marshall School of Business. The study suggested that only 37% of employees would share innovation or automation ideas if they believed they would have to do different work as a result of such technology being implemented. However, when employees believed the technology would help make their job better, 87% of them said they would share innovation ideas with their employer.

Both AI and employees will help companies to reengineer their processes, but with AI exploring how to optimise systems there is an opportunity to change processes without the natural reluctance of the employees.

Remote working is increasingly a reality in many industries. Customer service companies are now actively promoting the Work-At-Home-Agent model instead of increasingly large contact centres. Companies with a large number of home-based employees can dramatically reduce costs for office estate and more easily scale up and down as the business requires.

The need to create tribes is partly related to the trend for home-working, but it is also linked to our increasing use of social networks. As we see people less in real life and more in virtual spaces, such as social networks, it becomes more important to be more methodical about socialising – both in person and virtually.

All these changes in the way we work are related back to the increasing intelligence of systems that can help us to perform more effectively at work. We are now reaching a point where coding skills are becoming useful for employees in almost any professional job – accounting, HR, and law companies will all be using AI business application support and this means that professionals need to learn how to manage their virtual tools.

A great change is coming soon. It’s not that every job will vanish as many are automated, but those that remain will become more interesting and more technical – the HR team needs to start coding soon!

AI Is Bringing Brands And Consumers Closer Together

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quite a pervasive technology in the present-day environment. Even regular consumers with no technical knowledge are becoming aware of AI and are comfortable interacting with these systems. Examples are all around, from Siri on the Apple iPhone to the movie recommendations made by Netflix and song playlists on Spotify.

But there are many other ways in which consumers are beginning to interact with AI systems and many of them are not so obvious, at least to the end consumer of the services. Think of self-driving cars. They may not be common yet, but they are being tested all over the world and they rely on AI to constantly monitor the environment outside the car and to decide what to do next to keep the vehicle safe.

AI can also help to predict what people will do in the future. Facebook can tell if you are likely to take your own life based on recent posts. Stanford University trained a system to detect if you are gay or straight based just facial photographs. The HR system designed by IBM can predict who is likely to quit their job. The implications for these insights are fairly clear – imagine what an insurance company or government could do with this data.

Perhaps more positively, there are now investment algorithms that outperform regular investment managers and AI-powered disease diagnosis means that your virtual doctor will be aware of any relevant research and drug trials – even if it was just published yesterday.

Most consumers will be largely unaware of these developments, but there is one area where people are creating a huge demand for greater investment and research into AI systems and that is personalisation – the interaction between consumers and brands.

Years ago it was Amazon that really started this wave of personalisation by offering deals or recommendations based on the specific shopping behaviour of the individual customer. This was extremely innovative at the time because most brands could only ever offer the same deal to all customers at the same time. Now this is commonplace and expected. A clothes retailer needs to know what the customer likes, dislikes, their shopping history, and what they have browsed and lingered over in the past. All these insights would be impossible for a person, but an AI system can figure out what to offer the customer – either as a recommendation or as a special offer – and ensure that the offer is made at exactly the time that the customer is most likely to respond positively.

Now these personalised insights are not only becoming more common, but customers know that brands have the data so they are expecting greater personalisation. Customer demand is creating a wave of IT research and development. AI is moving quickly from being interesting and innovative to becoming essential for brands across many industries and it is customer expectation that is driving this change.

Digital Transformation Needs Great Technology

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Digital Transformation today can mean a lot more than just changing the way your brand delivers a service online. In many cases, companies many need to entirely redefine their business model to keep up with a changing industry that is being shaken by new market arrivals and constant innovation.

In some cases this means old brands die and new ones takeover the market. Instagram is a good example. The entire business of taking and sharing photographs is completely different today and the entire infrastructure that involved cameras, films, and development facilities has almost entirely disappeared in the last 5-10 years. However, in some cases a digital transformation can mean a completely new way of working inside a business that, on the surface, appears to be doing what they have always done.

This Forbes case study of Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services (LTLS) is a good example. LTLS provides logistics, transport, and warehousing services inside the airline industry. LTLS is itself owned by Lufthansa Technik, which provides maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for airline engines. On the surface these businesses sound like traditional engineering and logistics companies that exist to help keep airlines flying safely.

This remains true and nothing has changed in that regard since LTLS started a major digital transformation project a year ago, but there are some areas of process that have changed dramatically, especially around warehousing. Around half their revenue comes from their warehousing service so any way that innovative digital technologies can help to improve these processes will directly impact on the success of the business.

LTLS has implemented nine different projects all focused on assessing digital technologies. These include: using optical character recognition in combination with AI software to automatically fill in input screens and eliminate paper in the receiving department by scanning 10,000 documents each day; smart, light weight, gloves with 2D scanners that allow for hands free picking; integrating their warehouse management system to smart watches; and the use of mobile logistics robots to reduce worker travel.

One of the critical aspects the LTLS highlight about their own digital transformation is the cultural adoption of new processes. They tested the robot technologies in warehouses by buying a single robot and testing it alongside the existing processes, building cultural support for a complete rollout and replacement of the old practices.

This is where your approach to culture can be critical. Not every digital transformation springs from nowhere and transforms the industry overnight. This can happen, as we have seen, but most plans resemble the LTLS approach. There is a clear need to improve the way the business functions and digital technologies can help to transform the business processes – there is a clear sense of where we are now and a future state for the business.

In all these transformations you will require the team to support the changes being proposed, or the implementation is likely to fail. LTLS were smart by slowly introducing changes that could work alongside existing processes and the workers could quickly see how their life would be improved if robots did most of the heavy work inside the warehouse. It’s an agile approach that not only allows for support to develop, it allows for process errors for be fixed during the implementation and avoids the potential disaster of switching from one system to a new one and finding that it is full of errors.

Clearly this approach is worth some extra consideration by any executive team currently studying the opportunities for digital transformation in their business.

Can Your IT Deliver Great CX?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Take a look at what the industry analysts are all saying about customer experience (CX). It doesn’t matter which industry you are focused on, it is typical to see that improving CX is now considered to be one of the most important strategic priorities – often it is more important than the more traditional revenue maximisation and cost reduction strategies that most CEOs focus on.

But when you explore what CX transformation really means, it is clear that modern CX is largely supported by IT systems. To create a modern CX environment requires not only a major investment in IT and communication systems, it requires an understanding of these technologies and how they can blend with your people and processes so CX is improved.

This requires multiple skills. Executives investing in the technology systems that are now being used to improve CX may know the technologies, but have no personal knowledge of CX or customer service principles in general. So it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate just how much the various technologies have changed in the past few years. Supporting CX today is no longer focused just on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems alone. This CMSWire article details five key areas where you might want to think again about the kind of technologies being used today – and where we were in the recent past:

  • Moving from websites to apps – it’s no longer enough to have corporate information on a website. If you really want to interact and build a relationship with customers then you need the interactivity of an app.
  • Moving from Web Content Marketing to Artificial Intelligence (AI) – online content is great for brands, but AI will allow brands to automatically share relevant content and to build their content library automatically.
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) moving from a static repository to the centre of your digital assets – instead of just tracking all your digital assets using a spreadsheet, create a culture of sharing every digital asset, even photos and videos, and utilising the DAM database as a key asset throughout the business.
  • Moving from data use to help the marketing team to predicting what the customer will do next – don’t just use data on customers for marketing mailshots, study their behaviour and figure out what they will do next by using predictive data analytics.
  • Personalisation based on strict rules moving to AI – Machine Learning and AI allow you to get much closer to customers by creating a completely personal experience, not just the same experience every customer has. More and more customers are already insisting on this as an expectation.

Robotic Process Automation, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud delivery and Data Analytics. The list could go on. All these emerging and complex technologies are being deployed in solutions that are specifically designed to improve CX, but as this list suggests there is also a need for executives to think beyond what they knew as cutting edge two years ago.

When selecting a technology partner for a CX initiative you should keep in mind that they need to have expertise in the specific technologies you want to deploy, but also talk to their team about how they see these technologies evolving. CX is driving so much investment into these technologies that none of them are static. You need to consider how best to plan for a solution that delivers today and can flexibly grow with the business in future.

Digital Transformation Is Redefining Business Models

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The technology industry is in an interesting place right now. Industries across the world are facing a wave of digital transformation that is often redefining their entire business model and value proposition. In addition, the increased strategic focus on customer experience (CX) as a boardroom priority is creating a wave of investment in emerging technologies. There has never been a better time to be closely connected to the IT industry because IT is redefining so many industries at a scale that nobody has ever seen before.

Customer expectations have changed dramatically in recent years meaning that companies need to deploy every tool possible to increase both sales and loyalty. The Business to Business (B2B) environment research by Salesforce shows that 80% of customers are influenced by the way that a company is able to understand their individual needs. There is a clear need for organisations to explore how digital transformation and the use of more innovative technologies can create a better experience for their customers.

There are many examples of the changing digital environment and how emerging technologies are changing the interface between companies and their customers, for example:

1. Bots; intelligent chat bots are able to handle simple customer questions automatically deflecting calls that would need to be answered in a contact centre.
2. Automation; the use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate manual processes makes life easier for employees and increases productivity.
3. Data Analytics; the ability to personalise service for customers because the system knows exactly what they like, when they like to buy, and which channels they prefer. Companies can use data insights to show their customers that they understand exactly what the customer wants.
4. Immersion; Both augmented and virtual reality systems are being used for solutions such as allowing customers to experience a luxury hotel before booking and how to find products inside a store.
5. Self Service; customers are increasingly searching for help online before ever asking a company for help with their products so there is an increasing need to create intelligent content that answers customer questions in locations such as Google.

It’s clear that the combination of increasing customer expectations and the emergence of these new technologies is driving a wave of digital transformation. More than ever, companies are turning to their technology partners for answers. Technology is no longer just a service that supports the business, technology is rapidly transforming how organisations function and redefining business models. Technology is rapidly becoming the most important driver shaping how organisations function and define a business model today.

The Six Key Factors For Success In Digital Transformation

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Digital transformation is a business strategy that has been increasing in importance in the past few years. The ubiquitous use of smartphones, access to fast mobile Internet, and the app store concept have all combined to create a platform where established companies can offer online services and new companies can go to market with innovative ideas extremely quickly.

In some industries, such as financial services, there is an arms race taking place. New companies are launching services that are free of the technical legacy a large company, such as an international bank, needs to manage. Freed from many of the traditional requirements – such as a chain of retail branches – these new services can offer better prices to customers and be entirely designed around the needs of the customer, not the legacy systems of an established company.

It’s clear that companies across all industries need to be exploring how digital tools can improve their service to customers, but digital transformation projects can be risky. If a company bets on the wrong type of service then they can quickly become irrelevant in their own marketplace. Alternatively, if a company fears the complexity of a major digital transformation and delays investment then they may find that entirely new market entrants steal their customers by offering a more customer-centric product.

There are some key areas of focus that should be analysed before commencing on a digital transformation project, both to mitigate against failure and also to increase the chance of success. New research published in Information Age highlights six key factors for success in digital transformation projects:

1. Leadership; is the company leadership really supporting change?
2. People; does your team have the skills you need?
3. Agility; are you able to change plan during the transformation?
4. Business Integration; how will the transformed business connect to the existing processes?
5. Ecosystem; what support do you have from suppliers and others in the value chain?
6. Value From Data; are you capturing the right data and analysing it at the right time?

These may appear to be obvious points that any executive team would consider before a major change, but it’s worth studying each factor in more detail because digital transformation projects do fail. Often the reasons for failure are clear – a lack of agility is a classic example. If your project is so large that it may take several years to implement then it is almost certain that the requirements in a couple of years will be different to now. Therefore agility is essential.

The increasing use of Artificial Intelligence is a good example why these six key factors are important. In the Information Age research 68% of respondents said that they had already had a positive experience of AI systems and 61% expected AI to be creating new jobs in the near future.

That 68% figure is quite high for a technology that is often talked about as a trend for the future. Technologies such as AI are becoming very important in the present-day business environment and many of these emerging technologies will lead to a fundamental change in business models and the competitive landscape. But digital transformation is not just about the integration of emerging technologies into your existing business processes, it is the enabling of new business models or services through the use of technology.

These six factors identified by Information Age really do speak to the way that a digital transformation project should be approached. Kodak was researching digital photography and yet they never saw Instagram on the horizon – digital transformation can completely change entire industries in a short period of time so this is an area of strategy that is essential to get right.

How The Robots In Your Home Are Creating New Opportunities

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I recently bought a Furbo. It’s a device that started life on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. You fill the Furbo with small dog treats and when away from home it’s possible to watch your dog using the camera and toss those treats remotely. It’s also possible to speak and listen to what your dog is ‘saying’.

It’s just a fun device, but it is also one more connection to the Internet. Our homes are becoming filled with connected devices and slowly our home environment is becoming far more technology-enabled than any office, where the focus is still on connecting little more than computers and printers.

Think about your own home environment. Do you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home system? That means you will have connected microphones dotted around the house. What about your phone, laptop, and Kindle? If you have a games console that that will also be connected and how else can your TV access Netflix if that’s not online?

Much of the traditional media we used to consume in the home such as records, movies, and books is now consumed electronically. We stream Netflix to a Smart TV. We stream Spotify music to a home theatre or speaker system. We download books and magazines to e-readers like the Amazon Kindle. The connected home has slowly become a reality and is no longer unusual or cutting edge.
Data published last year by Cisco estimates that by 2021 each person in North America will be using 13 connected devices. Thirteen for each person! That’s a lot of Kindles and Furbos.

Naturally much of this growth is because everyday objects are gradually becoming connected. It would be unusual to buy a new car today and to find that it does not ask to connect to your wifi. Tesla cars regularly upgrade themselves when parked overnight. A new channel between products and their manufacturer has been created allowing automated updates and maintenance to take place without user involvement.

Smart leaders need to look beyond the devices and think about the data. When people are streaming constant information on their location and behaviour how can your business tap into that information to create genuine value? Insurance companies are one great example of a sector that is benefitting from this move to an Internet of Things (IoT) environment. If a car driver only pays insurance for their car when it is used and they are rewarded for safe driving behaviour then that helps the customer and the insurance company. Insurance is being redefined by this real-time data on the customer.

How is your business reacting to this connected environment? Can you see the opportunities or does it just seem like a threat to the established way of doing business?

Is There A Difference Between Consumer IoT And Industrial IoT?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The difference between enterprise IT and consumer IT has been blurred in recent years. It used to be that managers used Blackberries as their mobile device of choice because it worked better with email than any other handset – now Android and IOS are dominant for both enterprise and consumer use.

Enterprise technology used to be completely unrelated to any of the systems we might use on a computer at home – think of ERP or CRM systems. Who would be building a CRM system at home, yet it’s a common tool in the office. However, now that many enterprise tools are delivered via the cloud using a web browser it feels remarkably similar to be using tools and systems at home or in the office.

So is the Internet of Things (IoT) any different? The IoT has largely been talked of as an automation tool to assist in the home – the smart home where every device is connected and controllable. But how does the IoT work in the enterprise environment and should it be approached differently to the home?

There are in fact many differences that enterprise IT managers need to be aware of and this interesting article lists ten talking points. I’m going to just focus on what I consider to be the most important three here:

1. Security; you might be comfortable capturing personal data, such as your heart rate, on devices at home and sharing that information with your own personal cloud, but in the enterprise environment systems handling highly personal information need strong protection – just assuming a password is enough is negligent.

2. Reliability; enterprise and industrial IoT systems may be deployed far from your headquarters in remote and hostile environments. You need to know that a sensor will have a lifespan that can be measured in years, not weeks.

3. Programmability; IoT systems produced for personal use at home are largely out-of-the-box solutions. Even systems that can be configured in many ways, such as the Amazon Echo used for controlling home devices, are generally used in default mode most of the time. In the enterprise environment it is critical that your IoT devices and general environment can be changed to suit your needs – the default setting is unlikely to meet your needs.

This is an interesting paradox. As we have observed consumer and enterprise applications becoming more and more similar, the world of IoT remains distinct. The CIO, or general IT management, need to create an enterprise IoT strategy that moves beyond just installing systems that would be more useful in a smart home environment.

Blockchain Revolution: Not Just in Banking

Miroslav Suchopar
IT Consultant at IBA CZ

Though an interest in blockchain has grown lately, not everyone knows what it is exactly about. However, the basic principle is not so complicated to understand.

With a view to a rapid growth of the Bitcoin virtual currency, we hear the term blockchain with ever increasing frequency. The term has evolved thanks to the above mentioned crypto currency. Either it is an inflated bubble or a real potential, it’s undoubtedly the area that is currently swirling the global IT world and that we have to know more about.

From a technical point of view, the blockchain is described as a continuously expanding network of chronological records (blocks). The network is cryptographically secured and shared among all users. In other words, it is a distributed public database of unaltered encrypted records. In the context of cryptocurrency, the blockchain can be viewed as a virtual public accounting book where all transactions are recorded. Individual transaction logs consist of the transaction data, time stamp, and a part of asymmetric cipher. To ensure public accessibility, copies of the entire blockchain (accounting books) are kept by all users. Thus, constant availability of the blockchain and the best possible security are provided.

One of the key features is the verification by other users. After its creation, the record should be validated and then it is permanently assigned to the blockchain. Once the record is verified and eventually added to the blockchain as a block, it is distributed among other users. Concurrently, this block can no longer be processed or modified.

The increase of investment in virtual currencies implies that in the coming years, the capital in cryptocurrencies can be transferred in more extended amounts than today. Alongside with this, we can expect the increase of demand for the blockchain use.

However, blockchain has a wider applicability than just the financial industry. One of many possible use cases is a so-called smart contract. These are business contracts created automatically using blockchain. First, a distributed database finds out all the terms of the contract between a customer and a vendor. Then it determines whether the conditions have been met, uses the information from every network node, and authorizes the related payment.

This revolutionary approach is expected to be used not only in banking, but also in other sectors. The blockchain area is already being addressed by some IT companies that are trying to implement different use cases of blockchain in practice. Is it your future too?

Top Three Strategic Trends in IT For 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The IT industry has seen some enormous changes in the past five years. The increasing adoption of cloud-based services and payment by consumption has seen the industry pivot away from packaged software to complete solutions that can be delivered to any customer with an Internet connection.

But what are the big strategic changes we are likely to see in IT in the year ahead? The industry analyst Gartner has published their own predictions. Here are some of my thoughts on the most important predictions they highlighted in their analysis of the top ten strategic IT trends to watch in 2018.

Blockchain; mostly known at present because of the crypto-currency Bitcoin, there are many other opportunities to use the theory of Blockchain. Many industries require detailed ledgers and records of activity and Blockchain provides a way to detach the ledger from any individual app or platform. The currency applications will also be important if a major global network, such as Facebook or Google, can provide a smoother front-end making it easy to use a new virtual currency. If Bitcoin was easy to use as a currency, rather than just an investment, then would it take off?
Immersion; more and more IT systems will use immersive technologies, such as Virtual and Augmented reality, to blend the real world with information inside the system. This could be used to guide shoppers around a store, help surgeons train to perform a specific type of operation, or improve that way your car GPS system guides you to a destination. Immersion into information will be a major trend across all industries.
Conversation; homes are already going smart with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. These systems are now rolling out into the enterprise. We are already used to voice control on our smart devices. Voice control has been fairly limited so far, but as each year passes there is an exponential improvement in the capability of systems to understand speech and to react and respond.

These are general trends, but all will affect both the home and enterprise environment. Any company involved in delivering IT services today needs to be aware of these wider strategic trends if they want to remain relevant in 2018.

We will continue to see a desire to only pay for services as they are used, but the way that people interact with IT services is also changing. Acknowledging that both methods of payment and channels of interaction are changing will be important in the years ahead – we are now light years away from the days of a client commissioning some bespoke software from an IT supplier and paying for it based on the number of software developers involved.

Take a look at the Gartner list of ten trends and let me know if you think I have focused on the correct top three or if there are other major IT trends that have not been identified here? Please leave a comment here with your thoughts.

IT Trends For 2018 Will Be More Consumer Focused Than Ever Before

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The industry analyst firm Gartner has just published their view on technology trends to watch in 2018 and it makes for some interesting reading. Their research summarises the trends into three main groups: intelligent, digital, and mesh.

Scanning across all the trends it is interesting to see how many are now very influential on customer experience (CX). Companies used to engage with their customers mostly through customer service functions – often just contact centres accepting calls and emails. Now there is a much more complex environment where customers expect intelligent interactions across many different immersive environments – technology is required to support all of this.

Consider these trends, all from the top 10 Gartner predict as important for 2018:

  • Conversational Platforms; Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri. People are getting much more comfortable just speaking to computers and expecting them to respond intelligently. Google has even demonstrated their Pixel Bud headphones that can translate 40 different languages in real-time, allowing a user to have a conversation with a person speaking another language.
  • Immersive Experiences; both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are really taking off as people get used to immersion into a new world. The success of the Pokémon GO game in 2016 boosted AR and VR is seeing a huge boost as the power of the new Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox mean that millions of people have VR systems at home.
  • AI Foundation; companies are finding that they can use AI to help with real problems. In particular a common machine learning and AI solution now is to capture every customer interaction – what problem the customer has and how it was solved – creating a smart system that over time learns how to answer almost any problem. The system knows about every question every customer has ever asked, and how the problem was resolved in the past.
  • Intelligent Things; the Internet of Things (IoT) means that many more devices will be connected and online. Often this is talked about as a way to ensure your fridge never runs low on milk, but the real story is that your devices will all be talking to their manufacturer all the time, diagnosing problems and fixing themselves or upgrading – without your involvement at all. Imagine if your car can just check itself and get advice from the manufacturer automatically?
  • Blockchain; Crypto-currencies are still a niche pursuit, but many big organisations are taking them seriously. If a large network such as Alibaba, Facebook, or Google started taking the idea of non-sovereign online currencies seriously then we could see big changes ahead in many industries – retail and banking first.

What is fascinating to see now is how many technology trends are becoming ubiquitous and consumer-focused. We are no longer talking about business-focused issues such as network strategy or cloud computing. Many of these changes are driven by technology, but are being demanded by the end customers. The divide between enterprise and consumer technology is becoming very narrow indeed. As we now enter the final quarter of 2017 I’m going to think a little more about this in some future blogs – where should the IT industry be focused next year?

How Are The Predicted Tech Trends of 2017 Working Out?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

We are already in Q2 of the year so is it possible to observe how any of the predicted technology trends for 2017 are playing out? At the start of the year Gartner predicted a global IT spend of £3.5 trillion so there is a lot at stake.

Gartner predicted a move away from hardware spending as more companies source services from cloud-based solutions. This is bad news for the companies building servers, but great news for companies trying to quickly get new solutions up and running. This is one predicted trend that is observable in almost every IT project I see. Nobody is interested in managing their own infrastructure today, which creates a great opportunity for service companies to offer cloud solutions.

Business Insider published their own long list of predictions, from which I think that three are particularly worth mentioning:

  • Internet of Things; long talked about as a smart fridge, but now it is clear that all electronic objects can connect online and be more useful. I talked at a conference last month about how auto manufacturers are planning to create cars that can self-diagnose problems – an audience member told me that Chevrolet is already doing this. It’s happening right now.
  • Virtual Reality; I have long talked about VR as a tech that just needs people to have access to it at home. Now this is finally happening. In the past few months the new Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox have both been released with support for VR. Tens of millions of homes will be VR-ready by the end of this year.
  • Blockchain; it’s clear that Facebook has enjoyed some success over the past year with their Messenger cash transfer service, but it’s clear to me that they will take it further and create a global currency that can be used on Facebook. The Chinese WeChat service is already used for payments so I believe Facebook will need to make a quantum leap beyond just connecting a credit card to your account and this will be by taking the experience of BitCoin and making it easy to use virtual currencies. Blockchain will underpin the experience, but the user base of over 1bn people will ensure that when Facebook seriously gets into finance it will rock the industry.

What is particularly interesting is that several of these technologies have lurked around for years without much adoption – look at Augmented Reality for a great example. However there is a wave of enthusiasm for many of these nascent technologies now because companies are finding real business solutions and consumers are demanding better services.

Which of the predicted technology trends do you think will become the biggest later this year?

Aleš Hojka: We can offer a solution for any company

Aleš HojkaIn an interview to the TTG magazine, Aleš Hojka, CEO of IBA CZ and IBA Slovakia, speaks about solutions and services that any company can benefit from.
When I look at your business card, IBA strongly resembles IBM, doesn’t it?
You are right. Originally, IBA was founded in Minsk in 1993 as a joint venture with IBM. The brand and logos of the company are deliberately similar and as IBA was growing, it shifted to a direction different from IBM. New branches emerged, the first one was created in the Czech Republic, and the product portfolio has changed considerably. Although today IBM does not own any of the IBA Group branches, a very close cooperation continues.
For IBM, we implement both internal projects, for example one of the most remarkable is the Learning Portal, as well as other within our core expertise in portals and mainframe. In cooperation with IBM, we work for the end customers and bring them the best of both companies. Anyway, now we operate as two separate entities in the Czech Republic being even competitors to some extent.
Worldwide, IBA has over 2,500 employees with about 120 in the Czech Republic and still expanding. We have our own development centers in Prague, Brno, and Ostrava. The entire IBA Group is headquartered in Prague and now has offices in 11 countries, including the United States and South Africa, with IBA Slovakia among the youngest.
So what is the crucial area of your activity?
We dominate in portals, document management, mobile applications, and more. Most often, we use Java and .NET, though not avoiding enterprise and open source solutions, but mainly listen to our customers and assist them while providing deployment and maintenance of our solutions in their environment.
Whom do you mostly supply the solutions and what can we expect from them?
Our customers are large financial institutions, telecom operators, and government institutions, as well as manufacturers and distribution companies. Primarily due to our own development, we can offer advanced solutions for a company of any size.
For example, for Česká pojišťovna, we have developed a part of a mobile application that helps people deal quicker with car accidents. To be more specific, it finds the nearest service station, facilitates provision of all data that the insurance company may need, and etc. For T-Mobile, we have created an intelligent contact form with a prompter that allows for self-servicing in most cases. As soon as the user has finished typing a request, an answer is suggested, as well as other information that might be of interest. With our solution, T-Mobile receives roughly by 30% of emails less, which is a huge number and great cost savings on their call center operations. For the Generali insurance company, we provided a secure online consolidation of insurance with suggestions throughout the process. For Moneta, we created a fully responsive loyalty portal Bene +. The content adapts to the screen size of a device, either a mobile, tablet or desktop, with no need of development for each platform separately.
And what is your activity in the tourism sector? Do you have any customers in this area?
Not yet, though indirectly, we actually operate there as well, for example, within the projects for the regional authorities or the National Heritage Institute. But as I say, we are capable of meeting the requirements of any customer. Document management is used almost everywhere. Let’s say, a solution intended for invoice workflow covers the whole lifecycle from scanning a document to the data entry via processing, approval only after payment, and archiving, with all the stages automated and transparent.
Or the so-called Big Data, which is the processing of large volumes of data and keeping track of customer behavior. When a user logs into a social network where there’s a lot of personal data and then visits some other website, these tools recognize the user and offer him or her an advertisement of related products, for example, on news portals. For travel agencies and rental companies, we can offer the integration of their systems into a large retrieval system like Booking.com or TripAdvisor. Identity Management may also be of great necessity, thus providing security system and preventing unauthorized user access.
This system facilitates the work of administrators and also makes personal client data safe from leakage.
For the customers engaged in tourism, we can offer the services where we are truly the market leaders. From simpler websites and intranets with e.g. a review of attendance through complex client loyalty portals where each user sees different data, to the solutions like an anti-corruption subportal that we have created for the Department of Defense and that guarantees absolute anonymity. A portal may also serve as a planner of human resources, which could be useful especially for companies with a large or frequently changing number of permanent or temporary employees.
Integration with social networks may also be of interest. Our expertise on how to use the information that people make available on a variety of networks for targeted advertising may be useful everywhere, including the tourist sector.

 

Carmakers Move Research To Eastern Europe After Brexit Vote in UK

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

One of the manufacturing myths common in the UK is that nobody builds anything any longer – it’s popular to suggest that the UK used to manufacture products such as cars, but today that business has all vanished. However the numbers make the situation look rather different. Last year around 1.6m cars were manufactured in the UK, which was the highest figure for a decade.

But 2016 brought the Brexit vote and some potential changes to the auto manufacturing industry in the UK. The recruitment company DHR has suggested that auto manufacturers are shifting high-end work such as research and development over to Eastern Europe. Their data is supported by the news that companies such as Jaguar, Audi, and Renault have all recently invested in Eastern European expansion plans.

However, I believe there is more at play here than just the Brexit vote changing how cars are designed and manufactured. What we think of today as a car is changing faster than ever and the research function is about more than developing the next generation of sound system. The entire auto industry is being redefined around technology and the car makers that get this right will win a substantial market share.

There are three areas where I think technological research is redefining the entire auto industry and this summarises why the locations where the R&D take place will be at the heart of planning the future of this industry.

1. Electric vehicles; Tesla has shown that electric vehicles can be popular, but the price is still out of reach for regular consumers. As the regular brands invest more in R&D and battery design we will see an enormous change in this market.
2. Internet of things; cars just becoming a part of your home network will be normal. This will allow cars to self-diagnose problems and talk to the manufacturer without the owner being involved in addition to synchronising to your home – perhaps something as simple as playing the last song you had on in the house when you start the vehicle.
3. Self driving cars; we have seen that it is mainly tech companies that seem to be progressing in this space, but if the mainstream auto brands want to define the future then they need to also be investing in this space.

All this shows that the future of the car industry looks more like the technology industry with integration into networks, the Internet of Things, new battery technologies, and the ability to function without human interaction. There will be a strong crossover between the IT business and the auto business in the near future and it looks like a lot of this work will be taking place in Eastern Europe.

New Reality: Technology Trends for Belarus to Apply

IBA Group
Daria Kovalevskaya

On September 30 and October 1, the IPM Business School organized a technology conference in Minsk, Belarus. The conference titled A New Reality: Challenges for Belarus explored the modern trends in technology and how they are applied in the world and, particularly, in Belarus.

The first part of the conference was dedicated to crowdfunding. Speakers highlighted the advantages of crowd economy not only for small businesses and startups but for bigger companies and enterprises as well.

Crowdfunding allows for shaping the entire industries according to what consumers want to see and buy. If they want to read a book by a particular author, see a play with a particular cast of actors, or even buy a chewable ice maker, it’s up to them now to finance it. At the same time, campaign creators are able to validate their ideas (to see if the world is actually interested in what they have to offer) and create relationship with potential clients.

Indiegogo Co-Founder Slava Rubin Talks About Crowdfunding

At the second part of the conference, speakers presented the Internet of Things, drones, and chat bots. The most exciting part was the presentation of Smart Cities, a project by Philips, which uses recent advances in communication and data analysis to make big cities more livable and sustainable. Small sensors and devices work together to collect information that can be used later to save energy and help citizens feel safer.

Advantages of drones and chat bots were also mentioned. The potential of drones cannot be underestimated, as the drone market has recently hit $127 billion. While mostly used in the entertainment area (photography and video shooting), drones operate in construction, agriculture, transport, and security. They can cover areas that are either unreachable or unsafe for humans and substantially reduce the human factor risks. The only stepping stumbling block for drones is the government and rigid drone registration policies.

Chat bots are presented as alternatives to mobile apps. Similar to AI assistants like Siri or Allo, bots provide instant information. The main advantages of bots are multiplatform usage (opposed to mobile apps, bots don’t require different coding for each operating system) and low prices for their development.

The last trend discussed at the conference was Blockchain, a technology that allows for making and verifying transactions instantaneously without a central authority. A great example of Mycella, a company created by singer Imogene Heap, shows benefits of using the blockchain technology. Artists could release their music themselves, gaining control over their earnings and additional information about their songs.

Countries like Belarus may easily adapt to these technologies if they accept them and introduce changes to their institutes.  Crowdfunding is already a triumph here, with the biggest Belarusian platform, Ulej, funding over 40% of successful campaigns since its launch in 2015.

New reality has already made its way into the modern life. Customers, creators, and mechanisms of interaction between them are changing, and those who will be the first to embrace these changes will gain the biggest benefit.

Why Using Cell Phones at Work Can Be a Good Thing

The recent Innovation issue of PULSE Magazine, a bi-monthly e-zine created by and for IAOP’s members, published an article by Sergei Zhmako, IBA USA General Manager. The publication titled Why Using Cell Phones at Work Can Be a Good Thing focuses on social and mobile tools and their place in the corporate strategy of an enterprise.

According to the article, mobile and social technologies, being a strong trend in the consumer market, have become a top priority for most enterprises. With two billion people across the globe using social media and half of the web traffic coming from mobile devices, organizations actively employ these technologies in their work environment.

Mobile and social technologies enable easier communication and collaboration between employees and provide an instant access to business information and learning materials.

Despite bringing exciting opportunities, social and mobile technologies may also bring a number of challenges, as transition to them requires additional skills and effort.  The article gives ten recommendations to consider in a mobile or social engagement. Here are top three of them:

1. Engage Users Early – companies must strive to engage users at the early stages of the project lifestyle, including prototyping and receiving quick feedback from focus groups.

2. Consider Added Features – new features, such as a GPS location sensor, camera, or mike, could be added to solution if such need arises.

3. Change Your Culture and Make It Fun with Games – gamification can contribute to easier transition to enterprise mobility.

You can read the full article here.

Big Data Is Becoming Big Marketing

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It’s fascinating to see how quickly different technologies can move from the world of the technology expert to the mainstream. Think back ten years and it was quite rare to be using the mobile Internet. Some people were struggling along with a very slow connection and an old Nokia handset, but it really wasn’t until the iPhone came out in 2007 that it started becoming easy to use the Internet when on the move.

More recently look at how everyone suddenly understands Augmented Reality (AR) because of the Pokémon Go game. AR has been around for years as a way of overlaying information onto live images, but it has never caught on in a mainstream way until now.

I think we are about to see a similar shift in the way that Big Data is accepted in the enterprise environment too, because it is moving on from just being important to the technologists.

Companies are finding that their customer journey is changing dramatically. This is the route that customers use to find out about products and then buy them. Instead of seeing adverts or marketing materials and then making a purchase, there is a much more complex two-way information flow that can be spread across many channels.

Many organisations are finding that they need to blend all their customer-facing activities together so they can be coordinated. This means that the Public Relations, Advertising, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service teams all need to be working together because all of them are involved in the customer journey to some degree.

Making sense of all this change requires data and analysis. Smart companies are finding that they can develop better strategies by analysing patterns of customer behaviour, but this requires the analysis of very large data sets. Suddenly Big Data is moving into the world of the marketing team and becoming a valuable tool.

So for any company to succeed in this more complex customer environment, more knowledge about customers is essential and I believe that strong data analysis skills will be needed more than ever. Watch out for this as Big Data skills are going to become a mainstream part of organisational strategy in the very near future.

Companies Are Using Big Data Without Realising It

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.

Engaging Customers in 2020

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.