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.

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.

Enterprise IT Is Changing Fast

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I saw an interesting Tech Target blog on the storage requirements associated with Big Data projects recently. It’s interesting to see just how many technology concepts are now either blurring together or becoming interdependent.

Consider this as an example. A shipping company installs tracking devices on every vehicle and container they use – it might be tens of thousands of individual items that can now be tracked and monitored and more effectively moved into position. Clearly that increased efficiency is great for the company, but what does it mean in terms of additional IT infrastructure?

First there is a need for an IoT strategy – the Internet of Things – where all these individual items can be tagged and monitored in some way. Either they can independently broadcast their location or they can be monitored using devices that pass in close proximity to them.

So the sheer amount of information that is being captured requires a Big Data strategy because instead of just having an inventory of items, now you need to model the items and their location in real-time. Your database has to become a reflection of the business.

Then a data analysis strategy is required because you need to build models that can maximise the efficiency of the data model and improve on what humans can do manually. As the machines learn the optimum processes, much of the system will be able to run automatically.

But underpinning all of this will be a storage strategy because the amount of data that is created, stored, and manipulated will be huge compared to earlier inventory-based systems. In some cases the data capture will appear to be extraneous – capturing the movement around a port of a single container might not by itself add a lot of value to your business, but when aggregated with the location and movement of every container and analysed, efficiencies can be created.

And this leads back to the use of a cloud strategy to ensure that all these systems always have the storage and computing power available whenever needed.

It’s becoming hard to consider any of these strategies as distinct from each other because the way that IT projects work today has moved far from the world of PC-based applications. Enterprise systems are getting bigger and better, but they need more consideration and strategic planning to succeed.

Big Data and the IoT Are Worth Billions to the UK Economy

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) recently published new research exploring the size of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data markets in the UK economy with predictions running from 2015 to 2020. These two technologies are expected to add £322 billion to the British economy during this period and although the research is focused only on the UK it can be safely assumed that the effect will be similar in other developed European markets making the effect of these two technologies enormous.

In the UK, the scale of this effect is worth 2.7% of the national GDP and is therefore not just of interest to technology firms, and companies that require technology solutions, these technologies are literally going to change the economy in regions where they are deployed. The opportunities are increasing on a daily basis.

The research indicates that telecoms firms are already strongly adopting both Big Data and IoT solutions, but other industries are catching up and expressing a strong interest in how these technologies can help. Retail banking is expected to overtake telecoms soon for Big Data analytics and it’s no surprise because this is an industry that is being shaken to the core.

The big advantage of improving the use of data analytics is that companies can get to know their customer behaviour better. This means they can adjust their offer to the customer and personalise the service received, all leading to improved revenue and happier customers.

In a business like banking, new start-ups are finding that they can pick a small part of the business, like remittances or lending, and focus on that one service. If they can launch an app offering the service and it is cheaper and better than a traditional bank then they can start growing their market share.

The banks cannot stop this happening, but they can start adjusting their own customer experience so that their existing customers do not desert them for rivals. To make this happen needs information about customer behaviour and that’s where Big Data fits into the story. Knowing your customer needs better insights and technology tools like Big Data analytics and the IoT are what will help you to design how your business is going to work after 2020.

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.

Trends in Data for 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

IDC: Big Data Spending To Soar Over Next 5 Years

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gartner Predictions for Tech in 2016

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could The IoT End Up Like Betamax?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There A Downside to The Internet of Things?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Guardian, Farrell argues:

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

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

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

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

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