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September 29, 2014

Software's Latest Promise

Posted by Sudip Singh (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:25 AM

Vishal Sikka talks about the road ahead for Infosys (Aug 1, 2014) [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzGEVkwXm2o]

Exactly one hundred years ago, the city fathers of Cleveland, Ohio, devised a pretty smart piece of hardware: the traffic light. In America, by 1914, automobiles were becoming quite popular. In many cities there was chaos on the main thoroughfares. There was little established protocol for drivers of the horseless carriage.

I use this example because as a piece of hardware, there are few more enduring inventions than the traffic light. Red for stop, green for go. Simple enough. So simple and easy to understand, in fact, that it has kept the world's cities in order for the past century.

But we're on the cusp of a new age. According to recent reports, the traffic light will be obsolete within five years. What, then, is making such an enduring and elegantly simple piece of hardware vanish from our roadways? It's all about software.

In fact, software embedded in the next generation of self-driving automobiles promises to be so smart and safe that there will be little use for hardware at intersections that lets drivers know if it's OK to proceed or not. The software in their smart cars will already know what lies ahead. The cars will be equipped with software-enabled features such as radar, sonar, laser sensors, and in-vehicle videos systems. Additionally, pedestrians will have software embedded in their mobile devices or wearables that tell them when it's safe to walk across the street.

Dr. Sikka, will speak at Oracle OpenWorld tomorrow on just how fundamentally software will reshape the world in which we currently live. His address will not only focus on large software solutions that will affect global enterprises, but also on the ways in which software will empower ordinary individuals like you and me. As he's said before, we've barely scratched the surface when it comes to the transformational nature of modern software.

During Dr. Sikka's keynote address at Oracle OpenWorld, look for him to mention how software will create exciting new avenues for people and businesses to engage in meaningful new ways and to thrive. This new reality is almost here. Which is why I couldn't resist using a literal avenue - the streets of our cities - as just one example of how profound software solutions will be in the near future.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that unlike in decades past, when software innovation was somewhat rarified, advances in technology solutions today will affect everyone. The driverless car, outfitted with best-in-class software systems, is going to liberate drivers so that they can travel more safely and make their trips more productive and enjoyable.

We look forward to seeing you at Oracle OpenWorld this week. And if you're not in San Francisco for the event, stay in touch with Infosys for all the latest updates and announcements across all social media.

September 26, 2014

Publishing Sector Blazes A New Tech Trail

Posted by Manish Tandon (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:42 AM

Rethinking the business of publishing [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grq-iOt3ubY]

Drawing parallels between the modern pharmaceutical and book publishing businesses is extremely tempting. If you're a book agent at one of the few, big publishing firms that remain, your duties are not unlike that of an R&D chief in Big Pharma. That is, you're looking for only one or two blockbuster products (in this case, books) every year.

In the rarified world of book publishing, your success depends on finding literary Solvadi. That's because in both industries, it's a numbers game. The company wants one or two hugely successful products on its hands so that marketing, distribution, and every other administrative task are focused on as few products as possible. The company isn't spread thin promoting an extremely specialized drug or a book of offbeat poems that might be read by 100 people. They want widespread commercial appeal.

So what are all the other authors (some of them far better writers than the current crop of best-selling authors) to do? In the old days, they'd have plenty of places to send their manuscripts for consideration. And the firm was more likely to take a risk on an up-and-coming author it thought could become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Again, there could be in a small laboratory a researcher on the verge of discovering the cure for pancreatic cancer. But without the full resources and heft of a Big Pharma budget, that scientist might be years or decades away from reaching her goal.

The other tempting parallel, therefore, is how both industries can leverage Big Data to regain the best aspects of their pasts. For Big Pharma the question is how to utilize massive amounts of unstructured data so as to replicate, in as cost-effective way as possible, to replicate the months of research that would have occurred, in decades past, in their in-house laboratories. For book publishing, it's a bit more interesting. The qualitative questions surrounding the elements of a blockbuster book could, it seems, be culled from the parsing of huge amounts of data from, say, social media. If sentiment analysis can help hedge fund managers invest in stocks, then can't book publishers use similar tools to gauge what their audiences want in a new novel?

The answer to that question has been yes, with mixed results. But allow me to take a contrarian view. I propose utilizing Information Technology in the publishing sector in a different way - a way that allows for the traditional, creative processes to flourish yet still streamline a company's operations, improve margins, generate new revenue streams, and find growth opportunities.

The last thing the creative process needs is analysis by technology. All the analysis in the world could not have helped J.K. Rowling dream up Harry Potter. So I say enterprises should turn off the computers and let the writers dream up the ideas. Then use technology right across the rest of the value chain to bring their creativity and insights to the widest audience at the best price. The tools that publishers need - those that ensure revenue accuracy, help with litigation-free royalty management, make timely payments & collections, and drive data-based decision-making - are crucial for their success.

There is the urge to add to that list the development of a books storyline. But I think that a good suite of IT solutions actually frees up a publisher to work with authors creatively, like they did in ages past when the industry was at its peak, rather than succumb to allowing analytics to influence the development of the book drafts. Speaking of which, another advantage of IT in the publishing industry is all about the evolving nature of the book. Consumers are increasingly going paperless with various tablets, e-readers, and phablets. These devices work well for reading - they are easy on the eyes - but are also incredibly valuable to publishers when is comes to offering "on-the-go" content.

Tracking content is important in today's industry. With the traditional subscription model dying a slow death, publishers seek ways to accurately bill consumers and also improve the methods by which they take care of the needs of their authors. Most publishers are struck by how seamless a solution such as the Content Usage Monitoring tool has become. The monitoring system not only tracks online content; it stores it as well. A publishing house can use adaptors to connect to different content systems and feed various types of information to the system. It also addresses complexities that arise out of growing companies: a large user base, complicated revenue models like primary and secondary subscriptions, and even disparate content systems. The right IT is all about accuracy.

Strategically speaking, the most competitive publishing houses have suites of IT solutions that create customized domains for readers, booksellers, and authors alike. The power of Big Data analytics is actually freeing up promising new authors to be discovered and to be properly marketed to a new generation of digital consumers. Instead of relying on that all-too-tempting blockbuster model, today's best publishers leverage IT to create a constant stream of high-quality content for whatever kind of digital device readers want to use.

My prediction is that the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King will come from a publishing house that uses IT in a savvy manner that allows their creative juices to flow.

September 24, 2014

ERP Continues To Transform Manufacturing

Posted by Sanjay Jalona (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:18 AM

8 Manufacturing Trends for 2014 by Infosys [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luquKreTqpw]

"Made in China." During the second half of the 20th century, these three words represented a seismic economic shift that would last for decades, involve hundreds of millions of laborers, and account for untold trillions of dollars.

Indeed, after World War II, Western companies discovered that the world was a big place, and the first thing they did was to take advantage of cheap labor way beyond their shores. It became far more efficient for, say, an American company to manufacturer its goods in China and then ship them all the way back to its home market, where it would put them up for sale.

The reason that cheap labor turned the manufacturing world on its head during the 20th century was that the research & development process - and everything else, for that matter - took enough time to justify opening plants in the Chinese countryside. The entire manufacturing process was a pretty long one, so having an assembly plant halfway around the globe where the labor came cheap was one of many realities of that era.

But today, microseconds matter. Thanks to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, the manufacturing world is being turned back on its feet. ERP solutions have made every part of the manufacturing process so integrated, quick, and utterly efficient that companies are deciding to make their products close to where their sell them. Everything old is new again...

Probably nothing in the last decade has completely transformed the way companies operate than ERP solutions. Think about a major aspect of a vitally important. Whether you say inventory, shipping, payments, manufacturing, R&D, or even marketing, nothing has had such a profound effect on all of these functions than ERP.

Manufacturing used to be the realm of two basic types of functions: the foreman and the production line workers. What ERP did, in a most elemental way, was to make everyone involved with a company's product - from the ideation process all the way to the checkout counter - the foreman of their own, virtual assembly line. What I mean by this is that responsibility for every part of the process was streamlined and connected in a way so that the marketing guys weren't in their own silos wondering what the payments people were doing. Because of ERP, every function connected to every other in an impressive efficient, sum-of-the-parts operation.

And with that, things became a lot faster. What were once fairly far-reaching groups within an organization are now closely connected networks. I recall a colleague of mine speaking of how ERP is facilitating manufacturing so that "just-in-time" inventory processes are becoming "before-their-time." Information Technology is what binds all of these tasks together.

Because of ERP, many Western manufacturing firms don't have the time to wait for those three words (Made in China). ERP software brings down costs sufficiently so that operations are closer to their customers. No longer does an American company want to build a new plant some 10,000 miles away. It's also why, for example, BMW manufacturers its sports utility vehicles not in Germany but where it sells most of them: North America. Why put thousands of vehicles on a boat in Hamburg when you can roll them off an assembly line in South Carolina? Wherever they're situated, manufacturing plants are embracing high-tech materials and bringing the fruits of nanotechnology, chemistry, and physics to bear on their assembly plant operations.

That's just one example of how ERP has been connecting all parts of the manufacturing process so that the organization continually wants to push its operations faster and better and more efficiently. They want to improve each part of the manufacturing process and they're doing so, whether it's automation, Big Data, the Cloud, software, sensors, networking, and even predictive analytics.

Organizational manufacturing is coming together because of seamless ERP software packages that make an assembly process a thing of advanced beauty. The possibilities inherent in the solutions put forth by ERP are endless.

September 22, 2014

Creating a Lucrative Market for Digital Privacy

Posted by Suryaprakash K. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:48 AM

Samsung buys SmartThings [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2owuLOntyj4]

We're one step closer to that surreal society in which everything that surrounds you and comes in contact with you is connected to the Internet. It's easy to get quite excited about the prospect of just how convenient your personal life might become when the Internet of Things (IoT) takes on a massive scale.

There's a lot that needs to happen first. Some technology analysts predict that it could take five years or so for products - everything from table lamps to bracelets to coffee makers - to be embedded with sensors that allow them to be connected. It seems corporations are taking the IoT seriously. It reminds me when the world wide web just started becoming popular. Companies made sure they reserved the appropriate URL for their homepages even if they didn't know how they were going to use the net. I even recall a prominent CEO in the mid-1990s saying that he wasn't sure how the Internet would affect the various industries that his conglomerate was involved in. But he was nevertheless making sure they were prepared for the possibilities of how the web could affect commerce down the line.

The promise and potential of the IoT is no less exciting. Enterprises of all stripes know that it's going to be a game-changer - whether or not they're on the front lines of these changes. Those companies that have direct exposure to the rapidly evolving market for the IoT are the ones taking the most significant steps now. For example, it was recently reported that Samsung just dropped a cool $200 million on a start-up called SmartThings. It's just one of many new companies dedicated to the IoT. The platform will allow the owner to control all of her Samsung-branded devices and appliances from her Samsung mobile phone.

There indeed is a scramble to be the first among the major brands and companies that control the platforms that make the IoT possible. But I'm going to make a bold prediction: There will be another lucrative market that develops alongside the IoT - one that ensures privacy. At a certain point the Internet of Everything will become so huge that consumers will value the ability to more or less escape from that network. Consumers aren't the only ones who will make a market for privacy. So will enterprises of all stripes. One place this is already playing out is in the financial services arena.

For years the communications platform of choice for the world's major banks has been the Bloomberg terminal. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, it's a one-stop shop for big banks to communicate amongst each other and look up information about the capital markets. Yet now we're learning that a consortium of banks are getting together to invest in a platform that would take their communications completely in-house. It's been reported that Goldman Sachs is considering taking a stake in the chat platform known as Perzo. Among other banks interested in making an investment in the chat service are Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Bank of America. These banks are all archrivals, yet they've expressed willingness to work together and invest in a communications platform that would conceivably make their chats ultra-private.

If you have doubts that there is increasingly a premium placed on privacy, check out the Perzo homepage. It's designed to look like a locked bank vault. We're also seeing start-ups emerge that allow regular consumers to send text messages and images that only exist for short time before vanishing. It's said that every action that is done digitally makes a stamp that will exist permanently, somewhere. As the IoT becomes more of a reality, look for new enterprises to address the need for people and companies to have as light of a digital footprint as possible.

September 18, 2014

Apps: Are They Secure?

Posted by Jagdish Vasishtha (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:17 AM

Mobile banking apps are also prone to hacking [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdO9CQqOuP8]

During my recent coast to coast sojourn in North America, during which I had the good fortune of meeting many of our customers, there was one theme that stood out in all discussions--security of mobile apps. The concern was more around B2C applications, given the increasing penetration of the Android operating system. With its open model and multiple OS versions, Android, in recent times, has shown increasing vulnerability to malware, Trojans, etc. Even iOS is not completely free from these vulnerabilities, although the perception is that a highly controlled and closed ecosystem makes it less susceptible.

Take for instance, the recent hacking of the mobile app of a leading coffee retailer, where it was discovered that the user IDs and passwords were stored in a flat file. The CIO of the company commented that even if someone accesses the app login credential the only thing the person could do is buy coffee. I think this ignores a very important fact--that people may use that very same user ID and password on multiple sites. Keeping the login sequence on a mobile app simple has been the prevailing paradigm so far, in order to not compromise with user experience and increase the app adoption.

We all know that typing in a long and complex password on a small screen can be difficult and there would be a significant drop in usage if this rule is strictly enforced. Some leading banks have been experimenting with new methods to ensure security, which includes face recognition and fingerprint reading. While the final verdict on this is still awaited, organizations in the financial services and insurance industries can take the first step by implementing a two-factor authentication. Users will be authenticated based on a combination of log-in credential and his/her mobile phone. This means that the app will be fused with the mobile phone. So when a hacker gets hold of the user ID and password, he/she will not be able to access the app from another unauthorized device. This can be done in the background, without the user being aware of it. User experience and security are inversely proportional but I think there is a way to strike a balance.

September 16, 2014

The Resilience of the Brick

Posted by Dinesh Bajaj (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:18 AM

There's an empty Big Box store near where I live that used to be bustling with activity. It was a Border's bookstore that had a gourmet coffee shop right in the store. Every weekend a classical string quartet would perform in the main gallery while shoppers perused the latest titles. Everything about the shopping experience was upscale and delightful.

Yet now that store site sits barren ... a reminder of the potent and powerful online retailing revolution.

A funny thing is happening these days, however. The bricks-and-mortar retailers that survived the most challenging years of the online onslaught are experiencing a remarkable resurgence. There are a number of new Big Box chains opening grand, well-appointed locations in my community. And they all have something in common: They have equally strong online presence.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers, which the 'experts' once said were based on a dying business model, are re-imagining who they are and what strengths they bring to the cut-throat world of Big Box retailing. In the age of Amazon.com, many people had written off the bricks-and-mortar players. But now they are bouncing back by leveraging their assets in the form of stores which are turning out to be fulfillment centers.

This wasn't always the case. There was a virulent disease that had stricken many retailers known as 'show-rooming.' Customers would drive to the store, peruse the wide selection, chat with knowledgeable sales staff, and determine which appliance or item of clothing was the right one for them. Then they would drive home and order that item from a pure-play web retailer.

There's a maxim in the world of business (and life, really) that there is no such thing as a pure dichotomy. That is to say, it can be dangerous to your business strategy to view things as 'either, or.' It's better to view the potential of the marketplace with an 'and.' That is precisely what the smartest bricks-and-mortar retailers have done. They are now using their spacious stores and well-trained sales associates as an advantage over the experience of someone simply scrolling down a webpage and looking at products. Customers can continue to drive to their favorite stores to 'kick the tires.' But they can also order the merchandise from the same retailer online should they wish.

Indeed, the transformation we are experiencing is from Big Box or online to Big Box with online or more broadly digital (online, mobile, kiosk, social media etc.) presence. The digital consumer who prefers scrolling down webpages in the privacy of her home can order products online. But she doesn't have to wait for the mail to arrive. If she has ordered the item from a Big Box's website, she can then drive (or, depending on where she is, even walk) to the actual store and pick it up immediately. Hence the rise of the stores acting as the local fulfillment center.

Here's where things get even more interesting. The China-based very successful retail giant Alibaba has launched an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. The resulting cash infusion from selling IPO shares to the public will allow Alibaba to expand into the lucrative North American market and take on retailers of all stripes. The company will compete against Amazon, of course. But it also has plans to create fulfillment centers for digital customers who want to pick up their merchandise instantly. That means Alibaba sees how valuable and powerful bricks-and-mortar stores have once again become. They are more than just spots for 'show-rooming.' They are fulfillment centers for savvy web retailers.

I think the future of retailing is based not on choosing between a digital store or physical store. There won't exist such a dichotomy. Rather, the model that will begin to transform the marketplace will be based on an effective combination of digital and bricks-and-mortar locations. This business model essentially combines the best aspects of both retail methods. It turns out that bricks not only are strong; they're resilient, too!

September 12, 2014

How Will Apple Pay Change Mobile Payments?

Posted by Narayan Sivaram (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:58 AM

Apple Pay is here to transform mobile payments [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Om-YRgPtdZw]

So the much anticipated Apple's take on Mobile Payments, Apple Pay, has finally arrived like a superstar on stage. It has taken the payment industry by storm through a cameo appearance alongside an impressive array of unveilings. According to Apple, it is as momentous as the Mac or iPod or iPhone launch from years past. With more than 800 million iTunes accounts, it has always been source of endless 'what-ifs' for the payments industry buffs. So we now have more clarity on Apple Pay to ruminate and to prognosticate.

Speaking of what we know, Apple Pay uses near-field communication (NFC) technology to complete payments with a wave. Also in the package, an inventive approach that doesn't require card information on the mobile device instead a digital token is stored. Even if the mobile phone is stolen, the card details are safe. The digital token resides on a secure element on the mobile device. This is clearly Apple doing what it does best. Other 'wallets' experiments have been listless at best. Among the many difficulties there was this pesky question of who controls the secure element - the carriers or the payment networks or the wallet provider. Well, not for Apple. They make the device and they control it.

In the digital age, many advancements have seen exponential growth governed by the eerie prediction of Moore's law. Microprocessor, memory capacity, and many other advancements have all exhibited exponential growth over time. However, the Cards and Payments industry's magnetic stripe has endured many decades, bearing witness to all these changes, like a living fossil! It was an interesting juxtaposition when only a day before Apple's announcement there was a story about how swipe is not really broken and that the promised digital wallet is yet to show any sign of life. Clearly, the moment was right for Apple to make a grand entrance. Now Apple hopes it will not only change the face of payments, but it will succeed where its rivals have stumbled.

Google has offered a contactless payment system with a modest record of success. And retailers like Starbucks have been aggressive in encouraging their customers to use such systems. But that has been hampered by lack of widespread acceptance beyond their franchise. It helps that Apple's announcement included naming some of the retailers that will accept Apple Pay: blue-chips like Macy's, McDonald's, Target, Whole Foods, and Walgreens.

We are yet to learn how Apple will make money from this endeavor. Apple has reportedly struck deals with American Express, Visa, and MasterCard on its virtual payments system. And if Apple even gets a small share of each purchase on Pay, it opens up a potentially huge, new revenue stream.

One of the challenges for digital wallets has been that of security. Apple itself was recently front and center in a celebrity photo-leak scandal. And mega-retailer Home Depot is just the latest chain to suffer an enormous leak of sensitive customer information because of hackers. The point here is that it's a heck of a time to be introducing Apple Pay. To be sure, Apple has been chomping at the bit to find another way to monetize all of its credit card information that it has accumulated because of iTunes and the App Store. It has tried to assure the market that what we all used to call the iWallet until this week is more secure than other contactless payment systems, many of which have been underwhelming.

At the very least, the Apple Pay system has two things going for it. It integrates Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner. That alone makes Apple Pay more secure, I think, than an American credit card. American banks, as you probably know, have trailed the rest of the world's financial services institutions by not including security microchips into their plastic credit cards.

The second benefit of the Apple Pay system is that this is the first time the creator of the contactless payment system also makes the actual device that runs it. Some analysts have said that the chink in Google Wallet's armor was that certain wireless carriers could block the system if they wanted to. The only way you can block Apple's Pay is by not selling the iPhone 6. And you'd be pretty clueless as a carrier or retailer to do that! Apple has smartly been waiting in the wings to install NFC technology into its products. It has watched its competitors to see what has worked with NFC and what hasn't. Apple's more considered approach is sort of an affirmation of NFC among high-end users. The company is telling the world that it has learned from others' mistakes and is offering a premium product that is part of a larger contactless retail system.

What's at stake here is the overall concept of the mobile, contactless wallet. What we're talking about is an entire ecosystem that's up for grabs. As with any new technology, it's going to take a while to gain widespread acceptance by (in this case) retailers. Just two months ago, Amazon.com unveiled the Fire Smartphone for $199. It was hailed as a bargain for consumers and a brilliant way by founder Jeffrey Bezos to connect them instantly to any product for sale on Amazon. Now, however, just two months later, Amazon has announced that consumers can get Fire for a two-year activation for just 99 cents.

Although the new 99-cent price tag is not an admission of defeat, the Fire didn't exactly blaze a new trail. Apple's move into this area, however, is not unlike a superstar taking the stage after a short absence and showing upstarts how the game is really played. Virtually overnight, Apple Pay has taken mobile payments and made it fully legitimate. By virtue of its accessibility, affordability, speed, and acceptance by the ecosystem, we will see more firms accepting this form of payment in the future. If Apple fails in this experiment, one will be left to wonder what to make of mobile payments. Perhaps then we need to admit that the swipe is not broken after all.

September 11, 2014

A New Perspective On The User Experience

Posted by Suryaprakash K. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:42 AM

Tim Stevens talks about the new Apple launches  [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0bltI5uGPU]

Apple users are a dedicated group. They remind me of automobile aficionados, whose magazines are largely dedicated to sneaking into corporate proving grounds and snapping photos of next year's model on the track. In that same spirit, Apple fans are always trying to get sneak peeks at what the company has in store for them. They are very vocal about what kinds of features next year's model should have, or the power under the hood, or the overall design.

Savvy enterprises listen to their consumers. Just as something as mundane as the cup holder came out of drivers requesting that their favorite car companies install secure places for their cups of coffee, computer manufacturers depend in part on the desires of their consumer base. That's why I was floored to see the size of the new iPhone 6 Plus. It's more than just a smartphone. It's what's known as a "phablet," and it means that Apple is now treading in waters in which it said (until quite recently, in fact) it would never be caught.

The newly debuted Apple iPhone 6 and its cousins, the hotly anticipated iWatch and iPhone 6 Plus, is each remarkable on its own merits. But it's the iPhone 6 Plus that truly distinguishes itself because of its 5.5-inch dimension. We all talk about the supremacy of the "user experience." Yet Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, took the hallowed user experience term and turned it on its head. He said that his team at Apple started by creating a business model that centered on their personal interests instead of on the user experience. "We love this kind of problem," said Cook at the press conference. "This is exactly what Apple does best."

I was completely taken off guard, frankly, during the press conference when Cook outlined a difference between personal interests and the user experience. Up until that point, I would have told you that they were one in the same. But Cook set me straight. He forced me to rethink completely about what the user experience is all about. Perhaps the best example of this distinction is the size of the new devices. A new feature known as "reachability" on the iPhone 6 lets the user press the home button twice and minimize the screen so as to get the entire onscreen. Plus, you can operate the keyboards on both horizontally.

Mind you, up until recently, Apple resisted such user experience trends. There were some in the company hierarchy, including the late Steve Jobs and Tim Cook himself, who didn't quite see the value in creating increasingly larger screens. They were attempting to define the user experience as something that you could wrap your hand around - literally! But personal interests turned out to be a lot different. It turns out that we're entering the age of the "phablet," a hybrid tablet and smartphone. Personal experiences dictate that people tend to want larger, clearer screens, even if it means having to use two hands to operate them. Apple has resisted the trend up until this point, largely, I think, because market rivals such as Samsung, Sony, Nokia, and LG were the first to seize upon it.

Think about your personal interests. They probably involve using your mobile device for consuming information and entertainment. I suspect you consume a lot more than you did on your mobile just five years ago. The act of consuming and reacting to information does indeed become easier if a larger, clearer-to-read screen is involved. (Does anyone besides your grandmother carry a flip-phone, for example?) That's probably why one technology analyst reported that shipments of devices with screens larger than five inches grew by 369 percent in the first quarter of the year. This year is also the first time globally that "phablets" will out-sell conventional laptops.

An Intel executive explains this phenomenon: The rise of the "phablet," he says, is because global consumers are getting younger and those younger consumers want to use their devices to browse, share images, and chat via video. All of these activities are facilitated by the slightly larger smartphones that Jobs and Cook once said wouldn't fly in the marketplace. Now add another aspect to the phenomenon: In the rapidly growing emerging markets, a "phablet" is often the best of both worlds. Why buy a smartphone and a laptop when one, affordable "phablet" will do?

So, as we consumers "kick the tires" on these new models, Apple has been very careful to appear uncompromising in quality when it comes to the enlargement of its fleet of mobile devices. It would never want to be seen admitting that it was wrong about consumer sentiment regarding the user experience. That's why the company has delineated the very meaning of it. A personal interest not only forms a user experience. When it comes to the new family of Apple iPhone 6 products, it downright trumps it.

September 9, 2014

Global E-Commerce Tools Know No Boundaries

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:09 AM

Hackers in Russia have stolen 1.2 billion passwords from websites  [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1czXdU5cfRM]

In one of his first moves as newly named CEO of the retail giant Target, Brian Cornell wrote a blog on the company website in which he expressed his "deep respect for the challenging retail environment."

Challenging indeed. Those words were written just a few weeks before the world learned that hackers in Russia had stolen 1.2 billion (yes, that's billion, not million) passwords from websites across the globe. Target itself also was (please excuse the pun) a target of a huge data breach during the busy holiday shopping season last year.

The web truly has become a realm of extremes. Use the right e-commerce tools and technology, and your enterprise can have a gold mine on its hands. Don't use the right technology, and cyber-thieves will be lining up to mine your data! There's very little gray area when it comes to building the most effective and efficient online retail presence. When news of the hacking scandal hit the newswires, we were all amazed at the global scale of the crime. An analyst at Gartner said at the time that enterprises that rely on user names and passwords - which is just about every company I can think of - have to develop a sense of urgency about changing how they do things. "Until they do," she said, "criminals will just keep stockpiling people's credentials."

Often times it takes an event of mega proportions to rock us out of our comfort zones. I think the hacking of 1.2 billion passwords was that kind of wake-up call for retailers. It's why Target, in my opinion, hired an executive from PepsiCo to be its new CEO. The company hired someone who analysts say is a relative outsider. That is, he comes not from another Big Box retail chain but rather a beverage company. But he is well suited for the role because retail is about building trust with customers - clearly something Cornell did very well at Pepsi. Whether it's a retail chain or a beverage, digital consumers want to know that the brands they choose are keeping the quality of their products high and preserving the security of their data.

Successful web commerce is also about being comfortable with a customer from every continent. If you have just a couple bricks-and-mortar stores in, say, Switzerland, and a web site from which anyone can order merchandise, then you are in effect a global entity. Which is why you need tools that help your business move seamlessly across geographical markets. I got a kick out of hearing that Amazon is going to soon begin testing a fleet of unmanned, airborne drone delivery vehicles in parts of India very soon. Amazon is a very smart company, so they must have done exhaustive market research that indicated that consumers in certain regions of India were receptive to receiving deliveries by drone aircraft. If and when that market testing is successful, then it will be fascinating to watch how the company expands its fleet of drones into other markets. Being a global enterprise means knowing that what works in certain places doesn't always fly in others.

Which brings me to another major web retailer, Alibaba. Besides its much-discussed expansion into the North American market later this year, it's also expanding into different areas of web retail. These business lines have one thing in common: They all seem to be attractive to any audience, anywhere. Alibaba is impressive in that it seems to have a global perspective on anything they do. For instance, one of Alibaba's most recent investments was in a popular online gaming company called Kabam. According to the two companies, the alliance is strategic because, said Kabam's CEO, all truly successful gaming companies have to be global.

The gaming market is just one subset of the online retail arena. Knowing your consumers and what they want to purchase online is as important with video games as it is with clothing. It's why a gaming company that sees a huge opportunity across Asia wants to partner with a retailer that knows what it takes to be global and secure.

The worldwide hacking event was indeed a wake-up call. But it can also be considered a kind of growing pain. As enterprises keep pushing the limits of web commerce, they will experience bumps along the way. Which is why it's more important than ever to have a toolkit that allows your enterprise to navigate the web on a global scale.

September 5, 2014

Beyond Digital: Customer Care in Financial Services

Posted by Nageswar Cherukupalli (View Profile | View All Posts) at 12:16 PM

Brand-Centric Model To A Customer-Centric Approach

Among the architectural treasures of every big city are the banks. Walk into any old bank and you feel awe-inspired. A coffered ceiling soars above with marble walls with brass fittings everywhere and at the center is a huge vault. It was less about customer, but more about brand image and service/product offerings that differentiated one bank from the other.

Fast-forward to today and most banks are pretty sleek looking. They use modern steel and glass to exude a kind of bare-bones efficiency that customers are looking for. This is important because banks have realized the advantages of moving from a brand-centric model to a more customer-centric one. That is to say, they are the ones who should feel privileged when you walk through the door, not the other way around!

Are Other Industries Ahead of Financial Services?

While it is true that some industries are marching ahead when it comes to customer engagement, like retail, Banks do need to play some catch up. But, the good news is that some of the best practices are being shared across industries and banks are already designing products, features, and benefits that predict customer journeys and enhance the experience. Many financial services firms I work with have become extremely savvy when it comes to leveraging digital channels.. Their devotion to digital consumers underlines the importance of customer care that can ride on top of all the traditional and emerging channels alike and this new focus on the customer helps in getting real-time access to customer information.

There is tremendous value in the digital relationships they are forging with consumers. We've seen that many financial services firms are compelled to create an Apple-like ecosystem that utilizes human cognitive development. That's a fancy way of saying the entire ecosystem that they create for their consumers results in an emotional attachment with them. Doing so might not be crucial for older customers, but it is of paramount importance for attracting and retaining Gen Y users. No matter how a customer interacts with the bank, whether it's through digital means or the branch, the event goes beyond just a financial transaction and helps in building a meaningful relationship. Creation of a digital ecosystem is all about envisioning and developing an integrated, seamless experience.

How Can We Help Banks Get There?

I am constantly urging our clients to redesign their business processes and take a new look at them in terms of increasing automation and being more simple and transparent. This not only leads to a significant drop in the total cost of ownership, but also improves the overall experience. What will customers think when the bank has reduced the time it takes to open a new account to four minutes from 12 hours? That's what I call instantaneous results. This, in addition to improving the experience on self-service channels, has seen a 40 to 50% drop in in call volume.

Enriching the customer experience is definitely an involved task. This involves creating a framework that captures and analyzes the transactional behavior of customers and their preferences across all inbound and outbound customer interactions. The idea is to make all these customer interaction channels as effective and efficient as possible.

Try remembering (and using, of course) the various stages of the customer lifecycle journey. It starts with 'welcome me.' Initially, you don't want your bank to be selling a product or service, but understand you and work on positioning an optimized product or service that suits your needs. Then there's 'take care of me', which involves creating a unique experience for all the day-to-day transactions between the customer and the bank. The third stage is 'know me', which refers to the ability to get a full view of the relationships regardless of the channels or contacts and create a customized treatment based on your preferences. The fourth stage, 'connect with me', is about providing consistent, convenient access to service information across all channels. Moves towards 'improve for me'--always making enhancements in order to move beyond everyone's expectations. And more importantly, beyond your set goals. Finally, end every transaction and connection with a smile!

Investing in innovation is the key to success. When your key focus in on innovation, none of these strategies are earth-shattering. They are simply common-sense and must become ingrained in the culture. Emerging technologies mean more IT solutions for financial services firms that have significant business impact. So, again, smile, because by implementing new technologies, you're optimizing the bank's operations and reducing costs for everyone, including the customer.

September 3, 2014

How Banks Use Technology To Improve Security & Quality

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:10 AM

Beware of technology for technology's sake. Experts who predicted the demise of the Big Box retailers 15 years ago are now fairly mum about the bricks-and-mortar resurgence. These are the same kind of people who predicted that the radio would become extinct the minute consumers started to buy television sets.

I bring up these examples because of a ground-breaking new survey by TD Bank, a large and influential Canadian financial services firm. TD Bank weathered the global economic crisis because it didn't jump head first into offering collateralized debt obligations to customers. The bank was conservative in its approach to savings. It also has a track record of stellar customer service. So good, in fact, that many so-called millennial customers in its survey said that they actually enjoy visiting bank branches because the employees there are so friendly and helpful. These are young customers who do everything online. So when they say they enjoy face-to-face interaction with bank branch employees, those survey results should all give us pause and help us learn from how organizations should be operating their bricks-and-mortar branches at the dawn of the digital age.

TD Bank must have assumed that millennials would have eschewed branch banking in a big way. Indeed, 90 percent of respondents (all of whom were between 18 and 34) said they used online or mobile tools for their most common banking activities - things like checking balances and paying bills. Plus, 57 percent of the people surveyed said they are using mobile banking tools more frequently than they were one year ago.

When it comes to depositing or withdrawing money, however, millennials said they visit their local bank branches as often as they did one year ago. In other words, no change in their deposit/withdrawal behavior. The main reason? The respondents cited security. They said they felt as though dealing with a teller was somehow safer when it came to making the transaction. That's not surprising when you consider how other industries are making a mint off of consumer concerns that their information isn't remaining private and confidential. Just recently a company that specializes in file-sharing, BitTorrent, said it will soon bring to market a chat product they call Bleep that is a completely closed and secure method of online communications. No central server through which your text travels on its way to your intended chat-mate. You correspond directly, with no middleman.

Consumers undoubtedly have security on their minds when it comes to transactions and correspondences - more so than in recent years. Perhaps last winter's retailing credit card security breaches are partly to blame.

So what is it about bricks-and-mortar retailing and banking that those of us in any industry can learn from TD's millennial survey? One thing is clear: That some companies have a long way to go when it comes to having online customer service technology that mimics face-to-face interaction. My presumption is that an executive who is told that his firm has a customer care hotline has probably never called that hotline to test it out. He should - customers who feel they have good service online or over the telephone will more than likely come back for return business.

Another thing we can learn from the bank survey is that technology shouldn't be a separate part of your overall customer focus. It should be an integral part of the customer ecosystem. Therefore it should matter little if a customer decides to come into a branch rather than use a smartphone app. The fact that the customer makes no distinction is, I think, a testament to how seamless your technological ecosystem has become. The lack of distinction between customer engagement models is also telling when it comes to the online-to-offline strategy now being promoted by Big Box retailers that even five years ago were left for dead by many Internet analysts.

Customer focused technology should be enabling. The best financial services technology for consumers should be so fluent and seamless that it shouldn't matter in their minds whether they visit a branch or not. So long as they get results. When consumers get results, your business will, too.

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