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July 31, 2015

Smart Cities Empowered By IoT

Posted by Dr. Ashutosh Saxena (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:03 AM

Smart Cities Empowered By IoT

About two hundred years ago, the vast majority of people never ventured too far from their homes. Their entire lives consisted of tending the land around their family homesteads so that they could feed their families. This pattern continued and remained largely unchanged until about 1900, when the Industrial Revolution transformed cities into places that attracted people because of factory jobs and the like.

We have loved the city life ever since. As the global population continues to grow at a steady pace, more and more people are moving to cities every single day. Experts predict that the world's urban population will double by 2050. This means under the current pace, within 40 years, 70 percent of the world's population will reside in cities. This rapid migration will push both current and future urban centers to maximize and expand infrastructures beyond their breaking points.

With such rapid urban population growth, efficient, smart cities are the need of the hour. These smart cities not only require operating hospitals, utilities and transportation systems, but also a method to ensure that each of these are being optimized. To make this happen, city officials need to constantly monitor and track real-time data and turn them into actionable insights as quickly as possible.

In the not so distant past, data was collected during physical field visits. Now, thanks to emerging technologies around Internet of Things (IoT), remote sensors can do the job for us. Today, sensory objects (cars, televisions, smartphones, smart cameras, smart gadgets, etc.) collect real-time data remotely, giving us the insights needed to help us turn our cities around.

For example, smart meters are being used to measure electrical energy usage and incentives are given to those homes that consume less energy. Some cities have placed sensors on street lights, which dim or brighten based on the number of pedestrians on the road. Environmental Condition Monitoring system is being used to monitor water and air quality, temperature, humidity, pollution, and carbon dioxide concentrations. An environmental specialist can then access this data and use it to alert people about forest fires, and even send out updates on possible storms. Building surveillance and security is routinely used to monitor and detect safety and security patterns, such as malicious human activities and even a building's structural problems, allowing the local police to raise security alerts in a timely manner. Smart cameras and motion sensors are already being deployed in buildings and shopping malls to gather real-time data and send it to the cloud. For example, metal detectors are being used to feed data into a smart cloud application to allow the detection of explosives and terroristic attacks in real time.

My favorite example is that of the smart city of Amsterdam. The city currently runs 79 projects, collaboratively developed by local residents, government agencies, and businesses. These projects run on an interconnected platform through wireless devices to enhance the city's real-time decision making abilities. The purpose of the projects is to reduce traffic, save energy, and improve public safety. Its residents created an app called Mobypark, which allows owners of parking spaces to rent them out to people for a fee. The data generated from this app is used by the city to determine parking demand and traffic flows in the city.

It's not all good news, however. Recently, we heard the terrifying news that computer hackers sitting miles away in their homes could tap into the computer system of a Jeep and shut off its engine in the middle of a speeding highway. So much for the promise that connecting everything with the IoT will solve every problem. If anything, we've opened up a Pandora's box. Security needs to be on the top of mind to ensure that we get the best out of new technologies. For that, it's important to closely monitor every development, measure risk and find solutions. Only then, our lives will become truly 'smart'! 

July 29, 2015

New Credit Union Survey Highlights Digital Readiness

Posted by Amit Dua (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:14 AM

New Credit Union Survey Highlights Digital Readiness

Slow and steady wins the race. Nice advice and an old maxim. But does it really apply to the digital age and especially to the financial services space? That's what we at Infosys Finacle wanted to find out when we collaborated with Cornerstone, a financial services and technology consulting firm. The study focused on a small corner of the vast financial services world that is often under-reported and under-represented when it comes to surveys: the credit unions.

For the uninitiated, credit unions are hybrid institutions. Like banks, they give loans and take deposits from customers. But they're not open to simply anyone who has the money to bank there - at least, that's how they were born. Credit unions are members-only financial institutions that revolved around a certain segment of customers, so the idea was that the loan officers and bank tellers who worked there knew more about the needs and concerns of, say, a construction worker or a telephone company employee.

Credit unions are also non-profit institutions that are owned by their members. Membership in an institution that lends money can have its obvious advantages. Loan rates are typically designed to address that community of workers. For decades they were looked upon as ultra-conservative. But then the global economic crisis happened, and being ultra-conservative became an asset. Many of them braved the global financial crisis because they were extremely conservative in terms of how they lent money and to whom. So many credit unions and their members came through the crisis proving that good, old-fashioned banking principles, like knowing the person to whom you're granting a loan, still hold up in today's fast-paced, digital world.

It was against this backdrop that Infosys Finacle and Cornerstone sought to understand what kinds of mobile and online banking features have had the most impact on the credit union sector. Have traditionally cautious and conservative credit unions approached the digital economy in the same steady way that they have approached community banking in general? And how significant are digital strategies to credit unions in general? These questions are important if someone wants to consider what the benefits of online and mobile solutions are to their own businesses and industries. A 'one size' online and mobile strategy certainly does not fit all. That's why it's more important than ever for an organization - financial services or not - to have appropriately tailored information technology designed for the unique needs of its customers.

Of the many significant findings in the survey of North American credit unions, the one that is perhaps the most noteworthy is that more than half of respondents said they do not offer business online banking to their members. And the relatively few that did, reported unimpressive utilization rates. A full 80 percent of credit unions that offer business online banking reported 'Low' or even 'Very Low' member utilization rates. No credit unions reported 'High' or Very High' business online utilization.

Our survey discovered that credit unions are attempting to expand into business banking but without the right technological tools needed to get them there. The survey polled participants to provide their utilization rates for business mobile banking. The result? Not a single credit union in the survey said they offered business mobile banking. It turns out that the traditional information technology solution providers are vital here: They have been slow to add business or commercial features into their mobile platforms.

Again, you might be reading this blog and saying to yourself: I don't run the technology function in my credit union. What does this have to do with me? It turns out that a lot of this information affects you, whatever your line of business. It's about being ready for mobile and online ways of doing business. Your customers might very well be ready but if your institution isn't, then they could go elsewhere. The Cornerstone survey reveals that many credit unions don't even market themselves online. Then there's this amazing information: Over two-thirds of the respondents reported that their customers heavily use online banking. Combine these two pieces of information, and it doesn't take an expert banking analyst to realize that many credit unions stand to lose business unless they address the online and mobile expectations of their members now.

When I read in the survey that 'mobile payments' was listed as the most strategically important feature for mobile banking, and yet only about half of credit unions have implemented this vitally important feature, this is certainly a wake-up call. A business and its leaders may not find something to be strategically interesting, but when their consumers are expecting it, they had better respond with the best IT program available.

July 24, 2015

Why The Best Retailers Use 'Micro-Personalization'

Posted by Ambeshwar Nath (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:19 AM

Retail Trends - Personalization & Big Data [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdv7XypdtwA]

One of the things that made the television series Mad Men so endearing was how quaint and simple the corporate world used to be a half-century ago. The popular television series shed light on Madison Avenue of the early 1960s. The world's largest advertising firms were run by brash, creative men who had little use for predictive analytics or customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Of course, no such technology existed back then. The series takes place more than 50 years ago, when the most sophisticated computers took up an entire room and operated on punch cards. Back then, customers were told what to covet by bold advertising campaigns. The idea was that a catchy jingle or repeating the name of a product over and over again over the airwaves would settle deep within a consumer's inner consciousness. The next time they went to the store they would inevitably buy that product.

It's hard for us to imagine that world. Today, as consumers, we're in charge. Companies learn from us through sophisticated software platforms and the slicing and dicing of zillions of data to find out what they should be selling us. The advertisements you see in the margins of your screen as you surf the web are there because of significant analytics that are consistently being run on your web footprints.

Today's retail environment is so sophisticated and advanced that the 'Mad Men' of the early 1960s wouldn't last a day in today's advertising industry. What the big firms want are computer programmers and data scientists to make sense of all the information that's pouring into their companies. Why? Because advertising has entered a new era. Today companies are focused on one-to-one marketing - something unheard of up until a few years ago because the technology simply didn't exist.

Just a few decades ago, the reaction would have been to hammer the potential customer with as many advertisements as possible. Repeat and repeat and repeat until they submitted to the mass messaging. Today, however,the smartest companies use micro-personalization. They know how to place an intelligent, customized offer in front of the customer. These enterprises are the ones that will be successful in today's super-saturated and competitive retail market.

Marketers now enjoy a 360-degree view of the consumer with a combination of mobile, in-store, and digital experiences. Retailers or CPGs are creating focused and intense one-to-one campaigns. They are engaging with the consumers and building bonds across all channels. A Procter & Gamble or a Unilever might know you down to the type of soap you prefer. They will send you targeted advertisements with special coupons to your mobile device...while you're in the store and near the soap aisle! Amazon, the biggest online retailer in the world, has filed a patent for a shipping system designed to cut delivery times by predicting what buyers are going to buy before they buy it -- and shipping products in their general direction, or even right to their door, before the sales click even falls!

It shows just how important IT has become in the new retail world. Retailers can now make specific offers to people, based on their profiles and patterns that they have unwittingly built up by using their digital devices. It's micro-personalization at its most effective. Marketing and IT need to work closely together as IT becomes more strategic and pervasive in the consumer journey. IT needs to be a strategic differentiator. And innovation is key. A company needs to invest in the right IT to get new customers and retain their existing ones. If your company hasn't invested in the right IT, your campaigns might be doing a big favor for your competitors.

July 21, 2015

Insurance Gets Ready For Some Major Disruption

Posted by Ranjit Narula (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:49 AM

Insurance Gets Ready For Some Major Disruption

Recently, I had the privilege of representing Infosys as the moderator at one of Innovate Finance's panel discussions, titled 'The Democratization of Data: The Changing Face of Insurance.' The session was well attended with representatives from startups, investors, and organizations such as Aviva, Swiss Re, and the Lloyds Banking Group. There were four groups with 12 participants each with topics ranging from the one I was moderating to digital, telematics, and risk. We had 45 minutes to discuss the topic and then present the findings to the rest of the group.

What we all discovered is that there are new, disruptive insurance companies that are stirring things up in a very old and traditional business. One of the participating startups had the following claim: Better care starts with technology. Their proposition is that they are a new kind of organization that melds medical care with insurance. Another startup-created website directs you to tell them your symptoms so that they can connect you with a doctor immediately. You can track all your visits, prescriptions, and lab results on your mobile device.

Is this technologically-savvy model of melding insurance with healthcare the future? It could be. The insurance industry is woefully lagging behind almost every other large industry when it comes to IT. That's because most of their IT comes from in-house developers. This model has been working for years - but now, things are changing. Competition in the form of startups who understand the importance of IT in this space are breathing down their necks.

During the event, we discussed that many insurance companies have been laggards in innovation. One of the reasons for this is lack of major disruption in the market. The existing players seem not to feel any threat. How dangerous could that assumption be!

There's no denying that insurance companies can do plenty, if they want to. For one, they have ample consumer data, which includes insights from social media. Yet, no one could cite an example where customer requirements were inferred from social media and customized offers were given. For example, I have never received an offer from an insurance company informing me that my teenage daughter is now learning to drive and she could get a quote from my existing insurer.

Until today, the entire focus of the industry has been on how to satisfy a customer once a claim has been made. But the market is changing and customers want more value add from their insurers. Healthcare providers have adopted this by feeding information to customers on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. If they follow the advice to a T, they avoid falling ill and thereby paying expensive claims or healthcare costs. This is an excellent example of a value-added service.

Granted, the entire data privacy issue is one that is very difficult to handle. Putting something on social media exposes data to the public and therefore, the issue of privacy is not very clear. But, such data can be leveraged by insurers to fine-tune premiums, if the right permissions are sought. There is talk within the industry to ask drivers to answer a minimum set of questions in order to price an insurance product - with an option to answer some more (intrusive) questions that would lead to a lower premium. This seems to be the best way of ensuring the choice of sharing data remains with the customer and not with the insurer.

Without a doubt, the industry needs to do much more on the innovation front. Disruption are already here and there will be more - it is just a matter of time. Whenever they make their presence felt, the insurance industry needs to turn things around fast. For now, it's time to plan, prepare and attack when the time is right.

July 17, 2015

Retail's Exploratory, Disruptive Design Thinking

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:43 AM

What is Design Thinking [ Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee4CKIPkIik ]

When one of Detroit's 'Big Three' automotive companies hired a new design chief about 15 years ago, the gentleman stated in an interview that he didn't get his inspiration from certain types of cars as much as he did from other industrial products. Yes, here was a newly-minted automotive company executive telling the world that he found design inspiration in toasters and clocks and chairs!

He might have insulted his new employer if it weren't for the type of chairs he mentioned: Eames chairs, the beautiful products of mid-20th century Modernists Charles Eames and his wife Ray. To this day their eponymous chairs command top prices in upscale showrooms. The fact that this car designer was saying he was a fan of the Eames chair was a sign of his sophistication. Car buffs immediately were curious as to what his designs would look like on four wheels.

Today we're hearing a lot about Design Thinking in the corporate world. Design Thinking experts are the latest mega-consultants who proffer their insights to large corporations whose executives want to update and change their corporate cultures. Yet if you're a fan of mid-20th century furniture and the Modernists who crafted those chairs, Design Thinking isn't anything new or trendy - and it certainly doesn't come from hiring a consultant by the hour. That's one reason why Infosys is training both its employees and clients on Design Thinking. We see it as a way of conducting business. Not by the hour, but as a holistic approach that touches everything we do.

Some people might wonder why mid-20th century Modernist furniture remains expensive. Well, Modernists believed that form follows function. Yet their lasting success is that their functional furniture are examples of just how beautiful Modernist design thinking can be. The Eames family was famous for experimenting with materials and shapes. Their chairs not only served the function of being comfortable places to sit, but were also works of art. They were beautiful to look at.

Today, their iterative processes are not only part of the Design Thinking trend that is being embraced by the business world. Their design processes themselves are serving as inspiration to retailers who peddle much different products and services. There's a big difference between the two: corporations that want to change their day-to-day cultures and retailers who want to sell, sell, sell. Their entrepreneurial thinking in the retail space is disruptive and it's derived from exploratory thinking.

An excellent example of such thinking is Airbnb. Their concept, like Uber, was straightforward enough: use social, digital technology to connect people in search of services with those nearby who are offering it. A recent interview with one of Airbnb's founders amazed me. It turns out that his career training wasn't in the hospitality industry or in technology or software. He was trained as a designer. So he and his colleagues approached the business much differently than a hotelier would have. He said that two of the most important things that he constantly thinks about are approachability and global vision. When combined, these two traits are what can form a successful, disruptive business.

They certainly aren't mentioned in the same breath by most people, however. Yet the Airbnb people cite the fact that Charles and Ray Eames were always designing chairs with the desired outcome that they would be cheap enough for nearly anyone to buy them and they would use materials in new ways so that those chairs would be beautiful and comfortable, too (no doubt the mid-20th century Modernists would find today's sky-high prices of their creations to be interesting, indeed!).

The value proposition of Airbnb is very simple. It connects someone who is looking for an affordable, and pleasant place to stay with someone who is willing to rent out that kind of space. But, there's more to it. They ask their consumers what their interests are. For example, if someone is passionate about cooking, perhaps they can share a house with a large kitchen and an owner who teaches them how to cook during the stay. You see, if technology can find rooms for people to rent, it can surely be used to find out more about their interests and provide value-added services.

Perhaps the owner of the house has an impressive library. Can you imagine what book lovers would pay to stay in a home with thousands of good books (and even more comfortable chairs)? Retailing has gone global, whether it begins or ends on a digital device. That's why it's time for enterprises of all sizes to think like digitally savvy retailers and always push approachability and global vision to the forefront.

July 13, 2015

Learning: A Process Of Knowledge Construction

Posted by Aruna C. Newton (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:31 AM

Learning: A Process Of Knowledge Construction

Learning, like religion, is a personal process. Often when people say, "I made them learn," or "I taught them," what they actually mean is, "I facilitated the conditions for learning to take place."

Research suggests that this realization is changing our thinking, from simply delivering the curriculum to infusing learning within the multiple contexts of our lives. According to Robert Resnick, an educator who specialized in physics, the cognitive theory of learning emphasizes three interrelated aspects of learning. The first is that learning is a process of knowledge construction, not of knowledge recording or absorption. Secondly, learning is knowledge-dependent - people use current knowledge to construct new knowledge and thirdly, learning is highly attuned to the situation in which it takes place. According to a Stanford University report on learning theories, the learning environment makes a difference, too. The report argues that people learn by making associations and learning takes place in social and cultural contexts. Therefore, teaching is all about creating or organizing the right environment. Knowledge and people form parts of the right conditions for learning.

Many decades ago, Dr. Bernice McCarthy, a kindergarten teacher who went on to become a learning expert, created the 4MAT, a method that helps learners become successful. The method states that "humans learn and develop through continuous, personal adaptations as they construct meaning in their lives." A seemingly simplistic framework for learning, encompassing the 'Why', 'What', 'How' and 'What Else', which directly implies meaning, context, skill and adaptation.

In a research report way back in 2004, Gartner coined the term versatilist to describe the new-age professional. Gartner refers to a versatilists as those "who are able to apply a depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of situations and experiences, equally at ease with technical issues as with business strategy." Thomas Friedman, in his book The World is Flat, adds that versatilists are capable not only of constantly adapting but also of learning and growing. In fact, he compares them to Swiss Army knives, as opposed to specialty tools that do just one thing. In a world where change is the only constant and dynamism the lifeblood, no curriculum, however carefully constructed, can deliver the goods. In short, the world needs an abundant supply of versatilists who can meticulously apply the 'Why' and 'What Else' frames to a situation with ease, thanks to their superior learning experiences.

But stop for a moment and look around you. Pick up a book from your child's curriculum, leaf through your own textbooks from college and the material from the last training program you attended. What do you see? I'm sure you will realize that the 'What' and 'How' frames dominate written literature on subject after subject. There's very little on 'Why' (maybe you simply stopped asking 'stupid' questions and so authors stopped answering them) and of course, almost nothing on 'What Else' altogether (it's just too vague to comprehend). When I think about situations like these, I find myself asking - how are we ever going to create the new age professional, the versatilist?

Clearly, it is time for us to rethink learning to include the word 'versatilist' into our corporate competency dictionaries. It is equally important to build holistic adult learning environments at the workplace that strengthen the 'Why' and 'What Else' learning frames significantly. One way to get there is to include Design Thinking principles in our everyday learnings. Design Thinking, a concept that blends art, craft, science, business sense and an astute and empathetic understanding of customers and markets, is taking shape in many corporate environments. Infosys is one of them. We have already trained over 30,000 employees on Design Thinking principles (as of March, 2015), in partnership with Stanford's d.school. They say that the hallmark of great design thinkers includes empathy, innovation, experimentalism, integrative thinking and of course, optimism. The good news is that those words are the ones with which we want to be associated at Infosys!

July 9, 2015

Are US State CIOs Investing In The Right IT?

Posted by John Santucci (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:18 AM

Components of Effective IT Decision Making
Infosys and NASCIO survey assesses the four key components that are essential for effective IT decision-making  

As opportunities multiply and technology advances, US state CIOs face numerous options to support the core missions of their states. The challenge they face is to make sure that Information Technology (IT) investments are directed towards 'the right things.'

To understand this space, Infosys Public Services collaborated with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) to survey state CIOs on their organizations' ability to identify and invest in the right IT. We assessed state IT organizations on four key components essential for effective IT decision-making - alignment, operating structure, infrastructure and applications, and investment management. The results were very interesting indeed.

Effective IT decision-making requires high degree of consistency between what state IT is executing and what the state's business community needs are. Our research found that state IT and business teams are strongly aligned. However, 38 percent of the CIOs said that new projects, which are not aligned to a state's business strategy, often get approved. This disconnect indicates that the business strategy may be out-of-date. It also leads to an increase in complexity of the IT environment. Addressing this disconnect requires state CIOs to identify areas of fundamental stakeholder disagreement and involve executive leadership to establish direction.

Half of the state CIOs polled said their organizations understood which data and processes were common to the enterprise and how should they operate to share these common processes and data. While this understanding should help make IT investment decisions, only 21 percent are actually able to operate like this in practice. One of the reasons cited was that the existing IT systems are too complex to easily support shared services. In such a scenario, CIOs can set up the right operating model by simplifying their systems. They also need to communicate the benefits of enterprise-wide shared investments more effectively to improve collaboration among agencies.

Years of decentralized decision making has resulted in complex IT landscape in many states. 44% of CIOs said they spend 80% of their IT budgets in maintaining existing systems, instead of investing in new technologies that can help improve outcomes. As such, many CIOs are upgrading and transforming their IT landscape to become more effective and efficient. Business platforms can help state CIOs accelerate IT simplification. Platforms allow CIOs to 'acquire' core IT capabilities 'as-a-service,' enabling them to shift focus back to service delivery and away from technology.

Investment management is essential for prioritizing IT investments. This ensures that the return on IT investment is optimized. About 70 percent of the CIOs polled said that they have a process of evaluating and prioritizing prospective projects, but nearly two-thirds said that they struggle to measure benefits and value after they complete a project. To tackle this, CIOs need to institute a robust value realization methodology to measure benefits. Doing so can provide a feedback loop for controlling the benefits estimation process and the prioritization of future IT investments.

Study findings indicate that state CIOs understand the shortcomings in their IT investment decision-making process, but find it difficult to address those in practice. Why? Maybe because they are still not sure if they should operate like an enterprise or like a collection of independent agencies. Finding an answer to this question should to be the starting point as state CIOs try and build the right foundation to identify and invest in the right IT.

For the full results of the survey, please click here.

July 3, 2015

Obamacare Encourages Healthcare Players To Innovate

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:05 AM

Supreme Court gives Obamacare major victory [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFIHFeReCpc]

There was once a popular trend in the American presidential politics known as the Flat Tax. The idea was that the country's tax system had become so complicated that some of the candidates proposed one, flat tax for every taxpayer. Come tax time, the payer could fill out her taxes on a simple index card and mail it back to Washington. No accountants, no multiple tax forms, no bureaucracy.

That idea never took hold. In the tax system, that is. But the idea of universal healthcare more recently seeks to do for insurance what the Flat Tax would have done for taxation: Create a simple way to obtain and pay for universal healthcare coverage. That's a huge job, and it's easier said than done. But America has made its first bold steps towards a universal system that European and other major countries have enjoyed for decades.

With the Affordable Care Act, which is popularly known as Obamacare, everyone stands to gain some sort of simplicity when it comes to receiving quality medical coverage. For the Medicare crowd (the elderly) and the Medicaid populace (the ones who cannot afford to pay for insurance), the ACA is a boon. The groundbreaking legislation will see increased adoption of healthcare for both groups. And that's the idea - a country should be able to take care of its oldest and poorest citizens. Especially the richest country (by both earnings per capita and GDP) on earth.

But before we get there, take a look at some sobering statistics:According to federal data, the costliest one percent of patients (chronically ill patients without a support system) in the United States consume a whopping 20 percent of the country's spending on medical care. That's quite lopsided, to say the least. It gets even more interesting: A portion of the aforementioned crowd is referred to as 'dual eligibles' - a staggering 9.6 million people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. In 2010, the Medicare fee-for-service program spent an average of US$ 19,418 on each of these patients compared to US$ 8,789 spent on other beneficiaries. By 2024, total annual spending on 'dual eligible' is projected to top US$ 775 billion, according to a PwC report.

So as Obamacare takes off, intermediaries and providers must be prepared to serve new volumes of additional members. According to latest statistics, since the ACA became a law, around 16.4 million people gained health insurance coverage. This expansion has prompted the development of cost-containment initiatives and a harmonization within the healthcare ecosystem - a lot of it by leveraging information technology. For example, healthcare providers and payers are looking at adopting innovative care models such as value-based reimbursement models and bundled payment models, which will enable them to provide integrated and affordable care. Here, healthcare information technology will play a critical role by supporting these new models and developing payment systems that are designed to improve quality, reduce costs, and enhance patient and member experiences. Let's take another example, a U.S customer service representative at a healthcare payer contact center typically has to access anywhere between two to 40 different systems to service member queries. This increases call service time, reduces CSR productivity, and also impacts member experience adversely. Healthcare payers can address this by adopting solutions that provide a 360 degree view of information and interactions from different systems on a single dashboard, enabling a representative to provide a more efficient service. Other key areas of IT-led innovation are in high-tech wearables and virtual care solutions, such as telemedicine to help identify and better manage high-cost patients. Without a doubt, the right information technology can quicken the process and ease the burden considerably.

Not surprisingly, Medicaid expansion and 'dual eligibles' have put forth several business challenges in front of the major players in the industry. Payers will need to develop a set of integrated IT and operational capabilities to support this new delivery model. Enterprises in this space should be asking themselves if their healthcare solutions support key functionalities, including eligibility determination for Medicaid renewals and notices for special enrollment. Like the Flat Tax, which sought to simplify taxes - the ACA is perhaps on its way to simplifying things too. But, it will take a little while longer. Enterprises that are equipped with the best healthcare IT will benefit immensely by cutting through all the red tape and being responsive to customer needs.

July 1, 2015

Be Careful With Mobile Apps

Posted by Dr. Ashutosh Saxena (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:25 AM

Mobile Apps

If there's money to be had in a particular activity, you can be sure that thieves and criminals aren't far behind. One of the reasons we hear horror stories about cyber-crime is because the Internet is largely unregulated. I've often heard it compared to America's Wild West. No law and order gives way to swashbuckling criminals with bold schemes.

Perhaps the most troubling yet is ransomware - a type of malware that infects a computer in such a way that it restricts a user's access to his own machine. Can you imagine the panic if your computer has been locked and all your important files have been encrypted? Then comes a demand in the form of an on-screen alert - a ransom that must be paid to restore access. This is typically in the range of US$ 100 to US$ 300 dollars, and is sometimes demanded in virtual currency, such as Bitcoin! Infections caused by ransomwares can be devastating, and recovery can be a difficult process that may require the services of a reputable data recovery specialist. That specialist might charge more for his services than the actual ransom!

Today, there's yet another layer making things even more interesting. We live in the golden age of apps. There's an application for every activity you can think of. And people want to download these apps as quickly as they hit the market without thinking about the possible side effects. Consider an innocent user who has just downloaded a mobile app that secretly connects to ad sites. Common enough. But this app forces the user to see the advertisements while using that app. This is fine to an extent. But when the ad site contains malware (like a form of ransomware), you can only imagine how easily you can get trapped. Where's the emergency escape, you might ask? There are none.

Here's a story that I came across recently. Security researcher Luigi Vigneri and his colleagues from Eurecom in France have developed an app that monitors the behavior of others apps on a user's smartphone (I told you there's an app for everything!). It reveals exactly the names of external sites that these apps are secretly attempting to connect to, which include ad and user tracking sites. These researchers call their new app NoSuchApp or NSA for short, according to an article in MIT Technology Review. Vigneri began by downloading more than 2,000 free apps from all 25 categories on the Google Play store. They then launched each app on a Samsung Galaxy SIII running on Android version 4.1.2, which was set up to channel all traffic through the team's server. This recorded all the URLs that each app attempted to contact. Although most attempt to connect to just a handful of ad and tracking sites, some are much more prolific. An app called Eurosport Player connects to a whopping 810 different user-tracking sites! And, as you might imagine, a small proportion of the apps even appeared to be designed to connect to suspicious sites connected with malware, the researchers found.

So, how do these attacks work? Well, attackers download mobile applications from app stores and reverse engineer them to identify security vulnerabilities. Then they create malware to take advantage of those vulnerabilities and infect applications locally. Later, they distribute the created malware via websites, email or other means so it can infect applications after installation--or they place malware-infected applications in app stores that users visit for downloads. As the mobile device is typically more personal than in PCs, users frequently don't notice which version of an application they are downloading. This is when they make the mistake of downloading the infected version. Mobile users often do not understand the permissions they are granting when they install an application or visit sites that are accessible via a quick response (QR) code. They frequently click through security warnings to get to the content they want quickly, by automatically clicking 'yes' many times over. Thus, universally allowing permissions, which can create havoc.

So, what could regular app users do to safeguard themselves from these threats? It's important not to divulge a lot of personal information (even birthdays are clues to your password!) for starters. Secondly, one must create unique passwords for every online account. Next, always update your device OS from authorized sites only. It's also crucial to conduct application permission analysis before updating apps (every time!). Most importantly, always, always keep operating systems and software up-to-date with the latest patches. Doing so will go a long way from preventing those who create apps to do us harm instead of giving us a wonderful mobile experience.

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