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November 26, 2015

Coming Soon At A Screen Near You

Posted by Rajesh K. Murthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:53 AM

In the movie Ghost, comedian Arsenio Hall wisecracked, "Don't try to adjust your television. I'm black." Today, viewers toggle between multiple screens and different formats to select their preferred type and time of entertainment. The nature and delivery of content is being influenced by the proliferation of platforms and the diversity of devices. It compels media and entertainment enterprises to adopt a flexible approach to production and distribution, and explore revenue streams that maximize monetization.

While the industry undergoes churn with telecom, media, entertainment, movie studios, cable and broadcast enterprises merging to attract eyeballs, the consumer reigns supreme. Netflix used data and sentiment at the intersection of the Venn diagram to adapt the BBC television series House of Cards, cast actors and select the director for the American audience. Significantly, symmetry in data made the award-winning series a global franchise - China and India rank among the top countries downloading the latest season of the series.

The entertainment industry needs to better understand consumer preferences in genre as well as delivery of content. The millennials constitute an audience with discerning interests and preferences. The media and entertainment industry cannot cultivate this cord-cutter generation with bundled and à-la-carte programming. Viewers access content on-the-go using Over-The-Top (OTT) services while willing to pay a premium for niche entertainment via Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD).

Media technology companies are listening to the latent needs of consumers and responding with platforms that cater to the interests of a heterogeneous audience. UrbanPixels delivers perhaps, the largest digital entertainment depository. Its 'Can.I.Stream.It?' app offers a huge database of streaming services, digital rentals, and premium movie channels, while enabling viewers to browse, search and read reviews of titles.

Technology is also helping viewers discover novel content and / or introduce content that mirrors their preferences. In the entertainment industry, the concept of 'long tail' in e-Commerce is spinning off innovative applications. Serato, a music technology company, has developed the Pyro app that selects and streams songs by building on the playlist of music aficionados. Technology can also be a catalyst for music artists engaging with fans or vice versa. Smule offers an app that allows fans to collaborate with musicians by singing one half of a duet and sharing the video online. FilmBreak helps movie makers promote films through social media and grow the fan base by providing access to exclusive content and live video chat.

While the entertainment industry continues to fragment and consolidate, it needs to adopt smart technology to make intuitive choices in both the creation and dissemination of content. The millennial generation is discerning and has a choice of multiple screens. A blink of eyeballs and shares over social media is all it takes to make or mar the future of content.

November 25, 2015

What Shoppers Want: Shopping-friendly Tech

Posted by Dinesh Bajaj (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:08 AM

What Shoppers Want: Shopping-friendly Tech

A shopaholic once famously quipped, "Whoever said money can't buy happiness, simply didn't know where to shop." The joke now seems to be on retailers as customers shop on their mobile device, television set, and not to forget, in different formats of brick-and-mortar retail stores. Given the heterogeneity of shop fronts and availability of brands at diverse price points, retailers - and not shoppers - seem to need therapy.

The shopper's digital genome compels the retail industry to reinvent itself to serve existing and emerging demographic segments. Just as the cable industry rises to the challenge of the digital 'cord-cutter' generation accessing content on their mobile devices, retailers need to serve millennial shoppers who prefer 'adding to cart' rather than paying at checkout counters. Even when shoppers visit the store, retailers need to influence their pathway to aisles that stock goods in their shopping lists.

The retail imperative is a shopping experience that offers the best of both worlds: buy online or offline as conveniently as possible using digital technology. The outcome: an environment where online influences offline shopping, and digital tools help shoppers take purchase decisions. The retail industry needs to explore disruptive tools and technologies that pave the way for seamless omni-channel shopping. Retailers should engage successive generations with shopper-friendly solutions at every touch point to induce purchase.

The early signs of technology disruption should delight shoppers as well as retailers. Shoppers may hesitate to purchase merchandise online because of apprehensions about the right fit, for example, but help is at hand via technology that blends algorithms, images, and virtual reality. Trillenium, a UK-based startup, provides retailers with a multiplatform service for shoppers to simulate the real-world shopping experience using smartphones, computing devices, and virtual reality headsets.

The consumer insight of 'discovery' is encouraging retail technologists to make the process leading up to purchase as immersive as possible. ThirdLove, a fashion technology company based in California, offers an app that uses selfies and image recognition to help women shop for innerwear on their smartphones.

Technology is also converting indifferent shoppers to repeat customers. Hointer, a men's apparel store in Seattle, offers an app that enables a smartphone user to place merchandise in a virtual shopping cart. On arrival at the store, the app directs the shopper to a dressing room with pre-selected merchandise. After trial, the customer can purchase by swiping a credit or debit card on a tablet equipped with a card reader in the dressing room.

The brick-and-mortar retail store is also becoming smarter to attract discerning customers. eBay and Rebecca Minkoff opened a store in New York with a 'connected wall' that allows shoppers to interact with the wall: tap to watch videos, instruct shop associates, and change ambient lighting. The interactive wall senses the customer's needs and identifies items of merchandise, including preferred color and ideal fit, using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

Shifts in demographics and advances in technology ensure a symbiotic relationship between offline and online retail. Retail stores hold an edge in product categories where 'touch and feel' determine purchase behavior. However, retailers need to personalize the shopping experience using in-store mobile and digital technologies. Likewise, online retailers should capitalize on the inherent ease and convenience of the shopping medium. e-Commerce needs to harness smart technologies to address limitations of form factor, absence of product discovery, and lack of merchandise trial.

Just as in cinema, likewise in retail. The motion picture industry changed the narrative to tell multilingual stories that appeal to diverse cultures. Similarly, retailers need to cross over from mainstream commerce to help shoppers make smart purchase decisions in the comfort of their home or at their convenience in retail stores.

While omni-channel retail holds promise from a customer's standpoint, both brick-and-mortar as well as online retailers can hold their own by incorporating retail technology that influences purchase, making the shopping experience increasingly convenient and creating a 'long tail' for repeat purchase.

November 24, 2015

Is The Tablet The Classroom Of The Future?

Posted by Michael A. Hendrix (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:37 AM

Is The Tablet The Classroom Of The Future?

Kong Qui, the Chinese philosopher once said, "If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people." 2,500 years later, educational institutions are still experimenting with models of learning that address the needs of students.

A vast majority of the world's population, including natives in developed countries, do not lead a productive life due to the lack of basic education and skills programs. More importantly, the educated have not been taught to think creatively. Traditional education systems have not encouraged student engagement in the learning process, thus far.

Digital technologies realize collaborative learning and functional literacy. Online learning portals provide personal tutelage across education needs - from primary schooling to advanced technical skill development. Digital learning platforms provide access to quality education at minimal or no cost. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER), the most common forms of Internet-based learning programs, enable students in distant lands to pursue courses of interest, anytime.

Elite universities offer free access to course content and rich resources. MIT OpenCourseWare, the OER platform of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) provides access to content for 2,150 courses. Enkhmunkh Zurgaanjin, the first M.I.T. graduate from Mongolia and the principal of the Sant School in Ulan Bator, facilitated M.I.T. Circuits and Electronics MOOC lectures for a batch of 20 students. It helped Battushig Myanganbayar, a 15-year-old student, perform exceedingly well at the M.I.T. sophomore class.

Udemy offers over 30,000 courses in 80 languages through a team of 17,000 global instructors. Khan Academy offers free access to a repository of 10,000+ videos, ranging from math for primary grades to economics, finance, arts, history, medicine, and computer programming.

The University of Pennsylvania, University of Washington, and Coursera, a leading online learning service provider, surveyed 52,000 students who completed Coursera's courses. More than 72% undertook online courses to achieve career benefits, and 87% realized it. Participants considered themselves to be better prepared for the current role or enhanced responsibilities on completion of their online course. Almost 33% individuals realized tangible benefits such as increased pay, a promotion, or self-confidence to start a new business.

"Tangible benefits are reported at an even higher rate among learners from emerging economies, in lower SES [socioeconomic status] brackets, and from other non-traditional education backgrounds, signaling that MOOCs are able to help those with great need," according to Daphne Koller, president and co-founder of Coursera.

So, is virtual teaching an alternative to traditional schools? Are MOOCs and OERs a threat to the hallowed institutions that have built their reputation over centuries? The discussion on the optimal learning methodology remains open-ended. On the one hand, the online medium provides access to millions of students, but may not provide personalized tutoring to address the 'learning curve.' On the other hand, classroom learning encourages debate and blue-sky thinking, but does not reach out to students beyond the classroom. Learning portals have reported high attrition rates, and knowledge retention is poor. In addition, parents and teachers oppose the replacement of face-to-face interaction with screens and social networks.

A pragmatic approach may be a blended learning methodology that incorporates experiential learning with online instruction. This approach will enhance learning for school / college students as well as working professionals.

Confucius believed that students should learn computation as one of six essential arts. The use of computational technology and in-class learning may just be the answer to sharing knowledge and enriching the learning process.

November 23, 2015

The Changing Face Of Engineering

Posted by Krishnananda R Shenoy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:02 AM

The Changing Face Of Engineering

If there is a sequel to Oliver Twist, the chimney sweepers would be using remote-controlled vacuum cleaners and tapping away on iPads.

The fourth industrial revolution is a refreshing change from the mass migration of manual labor and harsh working conditions in factories. Consumers co-create user-centric products, automation and mobility ensure an employee-friendly workplace, and disruptive technologies drive innovation beyond products and processes.

The industry landscape is influenced by two dominant shifts: the Internet of Things recognizes every object as a source of information; and the Industry 4.0 framework changes every aspect of manufacturing - research and development, product engineering and distribution. Cyber physical engineering and production systems create futuristic cars in the U.S.A., revive the British pottery industry, enable mass production of prefabricated houses in Japan, and redefine watch making in Switzerland.

Simulation, artificial intelligence and advanced modeling help original equipment manufacturers, suppliers, architects, design engineers, product designers, and software developers develop unique products and services. The convergence of diverse skills, materials and technologies ensure design of cleaner, lighter and safer products that conserve resources, minimize wastage and reduce costs. Embedded sensors trigger instant response to multiple stimuli - order replenishment in a coffee vending machine, collision avoidance in vehicles, and pilferage protection on the shop floor.

Additive manufacturing revolutionizes product design and manufacturing. It enables on-demand and on-location production of food, cars and buildings. General Motors uses 3D printing technology for more than 20,000 components. The Apis Cor 3D printer delivers multi-storey homes, layer by layer, at any site. "Ecologists may also feel quite enthusiastic about this machine, as it doesn't leave any construction waste and consumes only eight kilowatts of energy - as much as five working teapots," according to the Apis Cor team.

ThyssenKrupp's Multi elevator system replaces cables used since 1835 with magnets to transport people vertically as well as horizontally. It reduces shaft size by half and doubles passenger capacity. Magnetic levitation increases usable floor space, maximizes speed and saves time. In New York City alone, office workers spend 16.6 years waiting for an elevator, and 5.9 years inside elevators, every year.

High-tech innovation facilitates outside-in and inside-out transformation. Yet another innovative elevator system is poised to make space tourism a reality. The Japanese construction company, Obayashi is using carbon nanotechnology to build a space elevator for beaming people and payload 96,000 kilometers into space by 2050.

While some engineers explore the atmosphere, others dig into the earth's crust. ECO Cycle, an anti-seismic underground bicycle park, constructed by Japanese engineering firm Giken Ltd. addresses Tokyo's real estate limitations. The automated system uses a tagging mechanism for safe storage and quick loading / unloading of 204 bicycles.

The Swiss watch industry sets the benchmark in mechanical craftsmanship. The T-Touch collection from Tissot combines classical watch movement with wearable technology. T-Touch II offers a weather forecast feature while T-Touch Expert Solar operates on a solar charge for 12 months. The upgradeable Tag Heuer Connected matches the lifespan of luxury smart watches with high-precision mechanical movement.

Collaborative engineering and smart manufacturing open new vistas for industrialization. Near-instant prototyping, easy redesign of complex products, and short lead times are changing industry dynamics. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a classic example. The company sources components from 250+ suppliers across 20+ countries. Startups and engineering majors help the company experiment with new materials and composites, structural components, and instrumentation systems to enhance aerodynamic design and deliver a superior flying experience.

Product engineering is undertaking an interesting journey. Design inspiration is meeting functional objectives via novel technologies and digital business models. However, decentralized manufacturing systems should converge with newer software techniques for a sustainable product lifecycle. Manufacturing can get more intuitive when there is synchronicity at a human, technology and atomic level.

November 18, 2015

Making Data Talk ─ On Courts, Fields, and Grounds

Posted by Ganapathy Subramanian (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:35 AM

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers: Back From The Brink

The eminent historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says that long before she began writing Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, she got a knack for recording events in the form of a scorecard whenever her father took her to a baseball game. Baseball, like its older cousin cricket, can be a complicated sport filled with a dizzying array of statistics. There are reams of data on each player, his batting average, runs scored in each game, and the number of home runs in the regular season, just to name a few. Those stats are only the tip of the iceberg.

Indeed, keeping meticulous scorecards and calculating player data caches is one reason Goodwin became as famous a historian as she was a devoted sports fan. She loved using data to analyze events. If only she had the power of analytics that sports fans now enjoy. The truth is, there's always been data surrounding our favorite sports. Think match data from every ATP tennis game going back many decades, or scorecards from very old cricket games that can be found on the Wisden website (or in the annual Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, before the Internet). But until recently, it was not possible to make all this data talk meaningfully. That is because, the available computing power wasn't sufficient to keep up with it all.

Enter the era of a new type of raw computing power. Today, we have a number of open-source data platforms, combining which can help process and attain real-time insights from mountains of data, at the fraction of the cost. For example, combining Hadoop and Spark gives 100X improvement to data processing. And a data science tool like 'R' can work on this for deep forecasts and predictions.

In-the-Moment Insights - The next big thing in fan experience

The average fan today can now sit in the stands and watch his favorite sport while getting 'in-the-moment' insights on a certain player or team. Is a member of basketball's Chicago Bulls likely to close out the game with a winning toss from the three-point line? Will a star cricketer of an Indian Premier League (IPL) team make a winning play like he's done in similar situations on that same pitch? Will a member of Germany's World Cup team smash a soccer ball past the goalie with just seconds to spare?

You may be able to find the answer to all these questions by giving your mobile device (or your television screens) a quick scan. Chances are that analytics platforms will have transformed the world of sports into a collection of real-time insights very soon, engaging every fan. To use an old sports adage, this technology is 'a game-changer' and how!

Exciting developments are underway in tennis, for example. With insights from data derived from Hawk-Eye and sensors (on baselines, sidelines, racquets), fans can expect more and more 'in-the-moment' insights, as opposed to post-match analytics. So if your favorite tennis player usually gets fired up and serves an ace during a tie-breaker, you will be soon able to look at your mobile device and get a computation of the likelihood of that ace being served up - right now - in front of you. It makes that serve even more exciting to watch. Sports analytics is certainly having, well, a field day.

It used to be that a fan pined for seats as close to the court or field as possible to be 'in-the-moment' by sheer vicinity. Now being 'in-the-moment' is a real, tangible thing shared by fans - wherever they might be. A spectator might be standing an inch away from a cricket pitch or be watching the match from a different continent and time zone. But if he has real-time analytics that are pointing to the statistical likelihood of certain players doing certain things in order to score, the game becomes all the more inclusive and exciting.

The mega-powerful computing and analytics platforms I've been describing aren't for the sole benefit of the fans. The computing power of today's platforms can help coaches and players make on-the-fly decisions as to what player to use at what point in the game. It can help a tennis player decide whether to play safe and make sure his serve is in-bounds, or is it time for him to go all out and try to smash an ace right by his opponent.

For organizations like Wisden (cricket), the ATP (tennis), the NBA (basketball), and even the Deutscher Fussball-Bund (soccer), players and fans have so much to gain with the insights they glean from powerful computing platforms. It's an amplification of the professional sports experience.We, the fans, have raw computing power to thank for becoming, in essence, armchair coaches to the teams and players we love. Given our influence over our favorite sports, the next move is on the part of the professional leagues themselves. It's only a matter of time until they leverage these new-found analytics to enhance the spectator experience.

Infosys is Global Technology Partner of the ATP World Tour, providing scores, stats, and insights, powered by Infosys Information Platform (IIP). Infosys is also a Platinum Partner of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals which is being held in London this week (Nov 15-22).

November 16, 2015

Disruption Innovation Festival Focuses on a 'Circular' Economy

Posted by Rajesh K. Murthy (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:52 AM

Navigating the circular economy: A conversation with Dame Ellen MacArthur [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPNIHSima5c]

One of my favorite new conferences is accessible anywhere on earth where there's a wi-fi connection. It's open to everyone. And its aim is to view the global economy through a new lens and not what its curator calls the 'take, make, and dispose' economic model of old. Welcome to the three-week Disruption Innovation Festival, a global meeting of some of the biggest, brightest thinkers on earth who are dedicated to touting the merits of the 'circular economy'.

The circular economy is, according to its disciples, the ultimate disruptive force to the global markets. In the current economy, a vestige of a 19th century model in which a small number of people owned assets that were used to manufacture goods and services that would be bought, used, and discarded, consumers are awakening to the fact that access is the new ownership. Instead of disposing of assets when they've served their purpose, modern stakeholders are learning to regenerate them through the Internet of Things, Design Thinking, and radical advances in materials science.

In a nutshell, we're moving to a circular economic model from a linear one that has been with us not only from the 19th century but well before that. Indeed, the 21st century is on its way to being known as the period in which humans learned to share rather than hoard so that systems cascade and virtually everyone involved can get a piece of the action -- if they're so inclined. Now don't get me wrong: the circular economy is far from doing away with capitalism; rather, it emboldens it so that capital is always regenerated and built with resilience in mind.

A simple example is crowdfunding. Someone takes to the Internet and proposes a project that, if seemingly solid, will gain enough funding through the pennies and dollars of millions of people around the world instead of the traditional method where he shops around his idea to venture capital funds that would take an enormous stake in the project in order for it to get the capital it needs to move forward. Another very simply example is a car-sharing service like Uber. For the better part of a century, the great cities of the world had enormous fleets of empty taxis driving around, burning fuel, and looking for passengers. With the power of the IoT, passengers are matched with available cars nearby so that much less fuel and time and resources are wasted.

One of the biggest misconceptions involving the circular economy is that certain aspects of it, such as reliance on renewable energy and favoring the consumer over the manufacturer, go against the grain when it comes to maintaining free and unfettered markets that encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. The opposite is true. In a study that was jointly sponsored by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Danish Business Authority, and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, research demonstrates that long-term value creation requires a new economic model that is less dependent on cheap, easily accessible materials and energy, and is also able to restore and regenerate natural capital.

The study models an economy based on some of the circular metrics I've outlined above rather than the traditional, linear model of produce, consume, and destroy. The results were -- using the small Nordic country of Denmark as a test case -- such that a focus on resiliency created between 0.8 to 1.4 percent additional growth in the country's gross domestic product, created between 7,000 to 13,000 new jobs, reduced the nation's carbon footprint to 3 from 7 percent, and reduced virgin resource consumption for certain materials from between 5 to 50 percent. Now that's what I call resilient.

There's a reason for such resiliency. A necessity, in fact. Our generation won't face shortages of easily obtainable, cheap fossil fuels -- nor will the next generation. But one or two centuries from now, how easy will it be to extract oil and gas from deep below the earth? It's little wonder that the small, oil-rich Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi has an entire campus dedicated to renewable energies. When oil-rich countries begin to advocate finding alternative ways to power our world, it's a sign that fossil fuels are a finite resource.

Indeed, the circular economy that's being scrutinized during the next few weeks around the world during the Disruption Innovation Festival aims to use its structure to weed out waste. It also focuses on the globe's addiction not only to fossil fuels but easy credit. As we all know, credit might come easily at first, but it never ends that way. What could be the ultimate disruption -- the model for a circular economy -- uses IT to obtain 'feedback-rich flows' that can, in time, make more people more prosperous and surrounded by abundance.

November 11, 2015

The Retailer That Killed Bookstores Is Opening...A Bookstore

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:29 AM

Amazon Opens Bookstore in Seattle [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSy2XVGs5Ds]

There are plenty of examples of the relatively new phenomenon of omnichannel retailing, but none is quite so striking as that of Amazon. Omnichannel retailing aims to appeal to all of a customer's senses and to empower her to buy whatever she wants at her convenience. On the surface, the fact that Amazon, a global online retailer, is opening a 'brick-and-mortar' bookstore in a single location, seems to be a validation of the omnichannel trend.

But then there is the fact that Amazon is indeed a global retailing behemoth and it is opening (for now, at least) just one store in a Seattle neighborhood. The move, given that it's right before the holiday shopping season, could be a one-off. It doesn't spell actual commitment to dealing with the many challenges that come with operating physical outlets (hiring and training sales associates, leasing real estate, etc.) on Amazon's part.

But, the question floating around ever since the web-based company announced its new physical book store is: Why? After all, most retail analysts point to Amazon as the model example of a market disruptor. When it came on the scene some 20 years ago, it allowed consumers the ability to shop for any book in existence and, because of its global scale, it could undercut traditional booksellers when it came to price.

Amazon's stock typically trades at sky-high multiples, suggesting that even though it has had a difficult time turning a profit, shareholders love the stock because they place a premium on the innovativeness of its sales model and the smarts of its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos. It also doesn't hurt that according to the research firm IBISWorld, Amazon sold 41 percent of all new books and 67 percent of all 'e-books' in 2014. The stock market, therefore, also appears to be patient with Amazon; it knows a good thing when it sees it.

The fact that Amazon has essentially reverse-engineered its omnichannel approach, going from online sales on every digital device imaginable to opening a store in a high-rent section of its hometown of Seattle is what has everyone speculating. Could it be, as retailing's Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach, that Amazon has orchestrated a brilliant piece of brand marketing and promotion? There is no financial reason to open a physical bookstore, especially because it's just one store. Given the economies of scale in book retailing, Amazon would presumably have to open several hundred stores to make them profitable.

Market evidence is also against opening a single, physical store. According to IBISWorld, the bookstore business has slumped to US$ 13.2 billion in revenues this year from US$ 18.7 billion in 2010. The research firm estimates that industry revenues will continue to slide by 1.4 percent a year over the next five years to $12.3 billion. Indeed, opening a single bookstore appears to be about a lot of things -- but none of them involving book sales! According to a company press release, the new store will allow customers to "test drive Amazon devices." The document states: "Products across our Kindle, Echo, Fire TV, and Fire Tablet series are available for you to explore, and Amazon device experts will be on hand to answer questions and to show the products in action."

Anyone who has ever visited an Apple retail store knows that the place is much more than selling computers. It's about creating an amazing customer experience. Notice I refer to the customer experience, or CX as it's known in the software industry. This term has evolved from the familiar customer relationship management (or CRM) that used to be the aim of retailers. CX means more; it's an omnichannel commitment to consumers.

It's not uncommon for visitors to stores like the Apple outlets not to buy anything; they still come away with a great attachment to the brand. If the Amazon store succeeds in creating buzz around its Kindle, Echo, Fire TV, and Fire Tablet offerings, the costs involved in creating a physical store will have been worth it. Jeff Bezos is a master marketer, creating brand awareness with his announcement that he might develop a fleet of unmanned drones that could deliver items directly to customers' doorsteps. His idea remains a distant dream -- but we're all still talking about it.

Also, as the holiday season gets longer every year (there have been Christmas-related television advertisements in the North American market for weeks now) the appeal of Amazon is that busy consumers can wait until the last minute to do their shopping (thanks to the services provided by them). I think Amazon has tapped into the growing annoyance of consumers that the holiday shopping season has become too long and stretched out.

To be sure, this wouldn't be the first time Amazon has experimented with physical retail stores. It has opened temporary 'pop-up' stores for the holiday rush in years past, but those tended to be more like extensions of their regional warehouses. This year, Amazon is promising British shoppers same-day delivery around greater London if the customer subscribes to its £79 annual membership. Surely the Seattle store is another form of omnichannel connection that Amazon is building with consumers in order to sell more fee-based services and devices. Let the holiday rush begin!

November 6, 2015

How Travel Is Becoming Smart

Posted by Kumar Paramasivam (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:49 AM

Bluesmart - The World's First Smart Connected Carry-on Suitcase [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kemdq9Q49D8]

There's no discounting the human desire to travel faster and farther; to push the limits. SpaceX, for instance, is one of the best examples of how radically the travel industry is changing. It's a private rocket company that suffered a setback about six months ago when one of its vessels, carrying a load of cargo for the International Space Station, exploded three minutes after lift-off.

Yet this December, SpaceX plans to return to outer space with an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket. Private space travel companies have customer waiting-lists a mile long, filled with celebrities, business tycoons, and national leaders. A private space firm like SpaceX can get rockets into geosynchronous orbit faster than I can locate my luggage. I'm joking about the luggage -- well, just a bit.

I believe that the future of travel is being shaped by consumer comfort than ever before. I know what you're thinking: The airport was overcrowded, the security line wait was long, your bags did not get loaded. How on earth does any of that suggest a consumer-centric mandate? It doesn't. These are just problems that are waiting to be solved. There are plenty of smart companies that are innovating to the hilt and, as a result, are soon to disrupt this industry -- an industry that will immensely benefit with disruption.

That's why I'm optimistic about how airlines, revamped airports, digitally savvy vendors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), governments, and other travel industry titans are coming together to present the consumer an entirely new proposition.

Take baggage, for example. There is probably no consumer experience worse than having to bring bags through security monitors, have them randomly unpacked by security agents, or tossed onto a wet tarmac and left to soak up water like a sponge. Enter entrepreneurial start-ups that are offering smart luggage. An U.S. startup called Trunkster will soon offer bags with built-in digital scales that can weigh itself and tell you if you are within airline regulations, batteries for recharging two USB devices, and GPS tracking. Bluesmart Carry-On, expected to be launched in December 2015, has a built-in global 3G SIM card, GPS and Bluetooth, so you can track its location using a mobile app if your bag is lost. Paris-based Delsey is experimenting with its own line of smart baggage (called Pluggage), which will reportedly include features such as, fingerprint ID, interior lighting and interior speaker!

Bear in mind, too, that with smartphones increasingly becoming commoditized, wearable technology will become a traveler's best friend. We're already seeing the emergence of companion devices that can be synched to specific operating systems in order to differentiate offerings. That's good business, especially if you believe a recent study that predicts that smartwatches will replace fitness wearables as the most purchased device in that category by 2017 -- little more than a year away! Indeed, a Juniper Research study predicts that an increase in smart watches and smart glasses (yes, glasses are still a big part of the equation, google devotees) will enable beacons, perhaps the biggest travel trend in development. By 2019, sales of beacons and wearables that are built for travelers could reach the US$ 53 billion mark. Seeing as the market stands at about US$ 4.5 billion this year, we're talking about explosive growth set in motion by digitally-minded consumers who want to travel smarter, safer, faster, and more enjoyably.

What about airlines? Besides the planes themselves becoming better suited to the traveler (The Finnair A350 cabin has two dozen light settings, aligned with stages of a long-haul flight. Warmer, amber colors for flights arriving in Asia and cooler 'Nordic blue' hues when flying into Finland. There's even a 20 minute 'sunset' in the cabin as well as, Northern Lights!), nearly half of all major airline companies plan to leverage beacons in a significant way by 2018. And if the prospect of dealing with airlines still seems off-putting, don't discount the rapid rise in the digital travel agent. This concierge comes in the form of augmented reality, which can act as a live translator, a local real-time deal-finder, a currency converter, and a source to offer new ways of interacting with those around you. By 2016 travel industry analysts estimate that the augmented reality market will have grown by more than US$ 2 billion. Travel operators: Take note. It might be good business to start taking this trend seriously now.

With private space exploration companies sprouting up, some US$ 53 billion-worth of annual travel hardware in the works, and augmented reality taking the pain out of booking long journeys, it's clear that the travel industry is set to take off. Whoever said that getting there is half the fun might be right.

November 3, 2015

Data Can Help Publishers Understand What Readers Want

Posted by Mitrankur Majumdar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:59 AM

What it means for the New York Times to hire a scientist  [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWIZOu_XZTs]

Despite the vast amount of digital content available today, I love my daily newspaper. Many readers, like me, continue to enjoy reading newspaper for its depth of coverage and unique experience. However, there is no ignoring the fact that newspaper circulation has dropped significantly over the last three decades.

Publishers are still trying to come to grips with a new generation of digitally-connected consumers, who use non-traditional channels such as mobile devices to access news from social media and apps. At the same time, newer entrants to the publishing market such as The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed are attracting more readers with free, shareable online content, that increases engagement and readership.

Although increasing digitization presents several challenges, it also offers possible solutions. Traditional publishing houses have begun to experiment with new technology-driven approaches to stave off the competition and maintain their leadership. They are realizing the power of data and focusing on data-driven business models, leveraging technologies such as Big Data analytics.

Traditionally, publishers were the ultimate decision-makers who chose and published what they thought readers would want to see. Advanced analytics, however, is rapidly reshaping the way content is created, by providing insights into both direct and indirect reader preferences. It is helping industry players create a more agile publishing model.

In 2012, the University of Bristol studied the types of content that tend to generate the greatest interest among readers. The researchers then used a machine learning technique to predict the appeal of news articles. Insights from such research and analytics can be used to build and adopt new methods such as micro-targeting i.e. segmenting the overall readership and publishing customized content suitable to each segment. In the end, this helps traditional media publications serve their readers better and form more enduring relationships with them.

Interestingly, last year, The New York Times hired Columbia University's applied mathematician Dr. Chris Wiggins to fill its newly created 'chief data scientist' position. With this move, the publication made it clear that it hopes to leverage predictive analytics as a significant part of its business model to gain competitive edge.

Wiggins leads a data team that uses predictive analytics algorithms to understand how people become subscribers, how to influence and attract new subscribers, and even predict who might unsubscribe beforehand. The team also uses natural language processing to understand topics that create more engagement among readers. This helps marketers narrow down their focus on the types of content that is likely to generate more interest.

Identifying valuable content can also help attract a paying audience. Analytics can help news organizations get a clear picture of what content should be made available on a paid model and what can be provided free. By leveraging analytics, The New York Times and other publishers such as The Wall Street Journal are increasing their revenues from paid readers who subscribe to digital only, or a combination of both print and digital.

However, it must be noted that new entrant digital media companies are yet to create a successful business model. They are still a long way from realizing their financial potential. This leaves the field open for traditional media to consolidate their position before it becomes too late.

For traditional media, adopting data-driven business models and new technologies could pave the way for a successful resurgence. Analytics has helped businesses emerge successfully into the new age of news publishing. The key to success lies in changing outdated approaches and helping traditional media organizations view data analytics as a potential solution to address their readership challenges.

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