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March 31, 2016

In Search of Book Publishing's Blockbusters

Posted by Kevin E. Corr (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:17 AM

In Search of Book Publishing's Blockbusters

One of the greatest novels of the 20th century almost didn't get published. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, which later became a smash hit in Hollywood, was 'discovered' by a New York book agent sent to America to find the next crop of budding novelists. When he was traveling through Atlanta, he heard about a manuscript about the years leading up to the American Civil War and went to see the young author. Mitchell was extremely reticent to show the agent her manuscript. The story goes that she didn't think it was of high enough quality to be seen by someone from a major publishing house. The agent was unrelenting, and once he had skimmed the chapters he knew he had a potential bestseller on his hands.

Ironically, that publishing world is, well, 'gone with the wind'. No longer do book agents try to 'discover' little known authors and bet the bank that they might become big literary sensations. Instead, book publishing almost resembles the pharmaceutical industry: The players place their bets on a few big, well-known authors that they know they will be able to recoup the costs of printing and marketing. Like Big Pharma, the book publishers prefer to get through each year with a handful of sure-fire blockbusters than risking funds on new names.

In this new world, book publishers must ask themselves how they can establish distribution platforms that are state-of-the-art - all the while providing platforms to produce the best content. To be sure, readers' behavior has changed. Publishing houses continue to struggle to adapt to this new consumer behavior. Traditional publishers that have found success in this new marketplace have embraced a 'new and renew' strategy. They package their content in digital formats that would have seemed unthinkable even a decade ago. The way the traditional publishers are staying competitive is far different from the pure-play digital content providers such as Google and Amazon. People don't go to those sites for hard-hitting content as much as they do for a web-surfing experience that might result in leading them ultimately to a retail site, based on the fact they were reading up on new cars.

In Germany, the book publishing world experienced what experts at the time referred to a David & Goliath story. A relatively small, traditional bookseller, Tolino, didn't feel forced to do away with its traditional channels. Its loyal customers enjoyed the experience of browsing for titles. But Tolino was quick to team up with a digital media powerhouse to develop and market a portable reader that had different features from the mass-marketed Amazon Kindle. The result: The Tolino reader grew at a rate that was inversely correlated to that of the Amazon Kindle. Tolino didn't have a secret formula; rather, it embraced a new, omnichannel marketing strategy, chose a world-class technology partner to help them carry it out, and, maybe most importantly, had fun doing it all. Never underestimate the sixth sense of your consumers: They enjoy seeing their favorite brands having fun and innovating.

Magazines, on the other hand, are a completely different story. They are particularly good at embracing the free-flowing digital formats of the pure-play companies. Consider them hybrids of the old guard and the cutting-edge website. Why? It's all about customized content. Magazine publishers tend to intensify customer engagement by increasing the frequency of content updates. Some progressive players are even replacing 'bulk publishing' with a continuous model that is better suited to changing consumer demands.

There's another important dynamic in the publishing industry. Faced with the near-impossible odds of getting their books published by a well-known firm, up-and-coming authors are choosing to push out the middleman altogether. They are publishing their books themselves. With the preponderance of smartphones and other digital devices, the consumption of literature has changed. By marketing their books straight to readers over digital channels, authors don't need to worry about the staggering costs of printing, binding, and distribution. In this regard, new authors have gained a tremendous amount of power. And they've gained it through their own hard work - most often promoting their books via social media, where news of a good read can go viral.

Book publishing is going through what music went through ten years ago. Digitization. Even big music performers are now going directly to the consumer. In fact, the music business was so unprepared for the changes that it experienced a complete disaster and some traditional music labels disappeared entirely. So, the good news for readers is that if Margaret Mitchell were alive today, she might publish her book directly onto a digital platform. And moreover, she would have to experiment with formats beyond the classical - maybe a Twitter-version of Gone With The Wind? Because let's face it: the competition is tough. A Japanese literary competition has received 11 entries from books written by non-humans, i.e. robots, and one of them even made it through the first round of screening! The new world is truly upon us. 

March 30, 2016

The Utilities Model Is Transforming - Power To The Consumer

Posted by Ron Thompson (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:05 AM

The Utilities Model Is Transforming - Power To The Consumer

Fact: The electrical grid in the United States experiences more blackouts than that of any other developed nation. Much of the physical equipment on our grids has aged to the point of obsolescence. And most industry experts would agree that the American utilities industry has reached a critical point. The message is clear: Update the infrastructure now or face serious consequences. At the same time, utilities are also experiencing a transformation to their business models (some of which, like the grids themselves, are more than 100 years old). Green energy sources, referred to as Distributed Energy Resources, are turning the centralized power generation and distribution model inside out.

The good news for the electrical grid in the United States is that for the first time in a long time, organizations and the government are coming together to make significant investments in infrastructure. Government subsidies such as the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 have provided US$ 4.5 billion for use in grid upgrades. But, that's barely a drop in the bucket compared to the infrastructure investments of other countries. Still, such investments will not only improve and upgrade the physical infrastructure in the United States, but will also better enable and optimize a 'smart grid' that can recognize, circumvent, and even prevent problems before they occur. Ultimately, smart infrastructure will improve the reliability and resiliency of our power grid.

Importantly, the Smart Grid will interface with and benefit consumers via Smart Meters and Home Area Networks (HAN). HAN's, for example, have the potential to be highly advantageous to the consumer. Consumers will be able to see near real-time energy use information, but more importantly, be able to take advantage of 'time-of-use' pricing. For example, appliances that consume a lot of energy such as washers and driers and water heaters can automatically be set to operate during low-cost periods, reducing the cost to the consumer. This places control in the hands of the consumer. But the benefits of the smart grid and smart meter are not limited to just the consumer. True, the consumer will have more control over power usage with the ability to run high consumption appliances during low-cost energy periods, but utilities should also benefit through better asset utilization and power management by seeing real-time demand spikes and potential grid failures. The result is that the companies can prevent blackouts before they occur and optimize power generation based on actual demand.

Distributed energy resources, demand/response (DR), digital customer connections, net metering, and the Internet of Things are all here to stay. Business models have to adjust to survive in this rapidly evolving landscape. That's exactly why utilities are among the leaders in IoT adoption. It's the convergence of several factors driven by the need for optimization of a two-way information exchange, improved asset performance, optimized energy consumption, and more reliable and resilient energy supply. Even today, the IoT is helping to prevent outages caused by infrastructure failures, employing renewable sources, reducing carbon emissions, improving operational efficiency, and transforming the user experience.

The transformation is occurring because the fundamental business model is changing. Much like the impact that cellular technology had on the telecommunications industry 20 years ago, renewable energy and the smart grid are transforming utilities. Stringent regulations regarding carbon dioxide emissions and the mandatory employment of renewables into the energy portfolio are forcing new behaviors. The question remains whether most utilities, some more than a century old, have the ability to adjust and adapt quickly to the new and evolving world order of energy. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that American consumers will use nonrenewable fuels to meet most of their energy needs through 2040. Granted, we are a very long way from an entire metropolitan area being serviced completely by 'green' energy. Today, roughly 10 percent of electric energy is generated from renewable sources. Although renewables will eventually become the lion's share of total power generation, it will take place incrementally over the next two to three decades. But that transformation, however slow it might seem, will be worth the wait.

March 29, 2016

Using Technology To Tame Telecom's Complexities

Posted by Peter D'Amato (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:22 AM

Using Technology To Tame Telecom's Complexities

We live in a world of noteworthy extremes. For instance, there are more wireless connections than there are human beings on the planet. Yet, half the population still doesn't own a mobile phone. In this world of extremes, there's a lot to consider when it comes to improving the consumer experience in the communications sector, which is struggling to serve its customers in a deregulated and competitive global market.

In the world of communications, you face a combination of such complex issues that it's hard to know just where to begin. Whether it's signal quality, internet speed, data roaming charges, or a mobility plan with bundled discounts thrown in, you're just scratching the surface. What happens, for example, when a customer wakes up one morning and discovers his cell phone can't get a signal or his internet speed is too slow? He will likely call his service provider and have an unsatisfying customer experience, and may even switch to another service provider. Issues like these are why the communications sector has a lot of customer churn. People are always looking around and jumping ship for better plans and better service.

Can you blame them? The American Customer Satisfaction Institute consistently ranks wireline, wireless, cable companies, and internet service providers at or near the bottom of the 43 industries it measures. The good news is that communications service providers around the globe not only recognize the problem, they are determined to do something about these consistently low rankings. As with most business problems, there are three dimensions to solving the customer's problem: people, process, and technology

To start with, let's take a look at the people. There is a high attrition rate among call center agents across industries, and many care agents do not have the training or tools they need to successfully do their job. To address these issues, communications service providers are starting to improve agent training programs and deploy gamification techniques that improve employee satisfaction, make the job more fun, and encourage people to develop customer problem-solving skills. They are also working hard to get trouble calls to the right agents so problems can be quickly resolved on the first call without multiple hand-offs and long wait times. Lastly, by giving care agents online help aids, agent chat capabilities, integrated desktop platforms, and other tools, service providers are arming their agents with all they need to be effective. Finally, companies are looking at organizational change management techniques to drive a service-oriented culture among all of their customer facing employees and management.

On the process side, it's all about simplification. Customer care processes are complicated because of bundled products with numerous promotion options, as well as all of the mergers and acquisitions that have occurred in the industry. There is still much work to be done, but companies have begun to simplify their product portfolios and re-engineer their processes around newly-defined user journeys, based on customer inputs.

When it comes to improved service, technology is a key enabler. Customers want to order service and pay bills online or via their mobile device. An effective digital experience increases satisfaction on the part of the customer and reduces call center volumes (Note: an one percent reduction in call center volumes can generate up to US$ 7 million in annual savings). In addition to digital and mobility tools, companies are deploying improved CRM, big data analytics and social media listening tools to learn more about their customers, predict problems, and be more proactive. Technology is also helping organizations learn all about their customers so they can better meet their digital expectations and demands.

Customer experience is critical, and service providers know that they need to meet customer expectations quickly. New competitors with disruptive business models are emerging every day. To cope with this challenge, communications service providers are looking beyond their current operating models and are creating new organizational groups and partnerships (think: Tesltra's investment in Ooyala, a leading innovator in video streaming, analytics, and monetization). These new partnerships are about empowerment. The innovative models are helping enterprises expand into new product segments, services areas, and even continents.

The telecommunications industry is in the midst of a profound digital transformation with a focus on customer experience. With enhanced people, process and technology solutions, this complex sector can attract loyal customers rather than losing angry ones from shoddy customer service practices that are holdovers from a bygone era.

March 28, 2016

Making Little Things Count In Big Ways

Posted by Kevin E. Corr (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:37 AM

Making Little Things Count in Big Ways

With global oil prices as volatile as ever and the threat of terrorism hanging over everything a tourist does, you might envision a climate that spells doom for the travel and hospitality industry. Far from it. Companies that are smart about customer service are experiencing stronger performance than ever. And the driver behind this performance is educating guests and passengers through web-based tools and allowing them to shop, compare and choose hotel rooms and airplane seats. These informed travelers are expecting more out of their destinations of choice, and the smartest hoteliers and travel companies are delivering through their command of customer expectations and technology-enabled capabilities.

The very best in the industry now see their mandate as staying on top of customer relationships throughout all facets of their journey - and then some. What I mean is that hoteliers and airlines know that consumers have more choice than ever before, so the way they distinguish themselves is by learning about each and every person who comes through their doors and sustaining a positive relationship with them. To be sure, technology is an invaluable tool in this regard, but now it's all about using the technology the right way.

In fact, one of my favorite examples from the hospitality industry doesn't involve IT at all. A housekeeping staff charged with preparing rooms in a St. Louis Ritz-Carlton noticed that every time a certain guest stayed with them, he would move the desk toward the window, which gave him plenty of natural light and a beautiful view of downtown St. Louis from his chair. This information was communicated to the front desk, and the next time the guest checked in, he found the desk in his desired spot. This story is a perfect example of how it's not only about a hotel chain buying a ton of IT solutions and suddenly becoming top-rated in all the right categories. It's about remembering to create a positive experience through the 'human' touch.

Still, technology enables game-changing capabilities. In the United States today, leisure travel is about 3.5 times larger than business travel (driven in part by stingy travel budgets and vastly improved video and teleconferencing). Travel companies are leveraging technology to create more options for the leisure traveler. Have you heard of 'experience travel'? That's the name given to holidays that involve 'experiencing' the local flavor, soaking in the culture or even fitting in some charitable work! Yes, today's travelers are looking for much more than just sitting idle on a beach. For example, World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers offers travelers a chance to live and work on a farm and learn agricultural techniques.Technology is allowing travel companies to create, bundle, and offer these differentiating experiences to holidaymakers. And thanks to social media, these experiences are amplified and promoted (online reviews have more importance than ever!).

In the future, consumers can expect - and will no doubt demand - better experiences from the industry. Think of all the data the industry possesses (hint: reservation history!). And companies will use advances in big data analytics to parse data and determine future traveler needs, and match that to the economic value of that traveler to provide unique, desirable, and profitable experiences. Doing so allows them to align benefits with the appropriate mechanisms, be it direct mailings or a targeted social media campaign.

What technology is doing is making many little things count in big ways. It's about giving a travel and hospitality company the opportunity to take advantage of better intelligence around what they're already doing.

March 24, 2016

The Power Of Speech

Posted by Prasad Joshi (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:18 PM

The competition to be your personal digital assistant [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSQx0AA3vek]

Lee Iacocca's legendary turnaround of the Chrysler Corporation in the late 1970s and early 1980s is regarded as one of the greatest management stories of all time. Of the many quick and decisive actions Iacocca took at the then near-bankrupt company was to bring technology to Chrysler automobiles that would make consumers wake up and take notice - and make competitors squirm. One such gadget was the Electronic Voice Alert System (EVA). Mind you, most consumers of that era didn't know what a personal computer was - Macintosh was not yet released! Yet, a consumer was sold on a Chrysler that would tell her if she left her keys in the ignition or warned her that it was time for an oil change.

Many years have passed since then. But, the progress surprisingly has been slow. That was perhaps because applications and systems did not demand that kind of interaction. Technology was still evolving . In today's era with Cloud first, Mobile first, sensors everywhere - speech and gestures are in (with a bang)! We have an interesting confluence of technologies and applications. Hands-free operations and the need to access information at the point of action has led to an amazing array of speech integration.

Amazon's digital assistant Alexa is expected to increase affinity for Amazon's products and services. Alexa has a neutral accent and, more importantly, the ability to understand my Indian accent. Gone are the days when I would get into the car and say, "Go Home", only to see "Golf Course Icons" on my in car display! Today I can say whatever I like to digital assistants from different companies like, "Play some Boney M on Pandora", to start the app (Pandora) and point me to the right song or, "Hey Siri, wake me up at 5am" to set the alarm, or "Okay Google, will it rain on Sunday?" for the weather forecast of that Sunday.

There are apps that read out credit card statements, or show a personalized video that incorporates the explanation of my telephone bill charges for the month. And indeed, with rapidly evolving speech technologies, phones, tablets, devices are increasingly able to support speech interfaces.

We have moved on from the monotone voice that told drivers 35 years ago that their door was ajar, or that they needed to fasten their seat belts, to Siri or Alexa that at the very least have soothing, lifelike voices. They seem to know humor and Siri, at times, outright ridicules you! In short, these digital assistants have a personality.

Supporting vocabulary and varied voice/accent recognition has evolved exponentially. From the days of 11 spoken messages of the Chrysler car, we have context aware speech system, ones that can remember last couple of interactions in their context - fuelled by A.I. The ability to work with context will be paramount as we integrate sensor information, sounds, location and gestures in technologies. At Infosys, some of our experiments point to excellent results in creating a knowledge base that stores video and spoken expert discourses and help newbies learn those topics with spoken, textual and image queries. More on that later. But, for now - let's revel in what we have achieved so far!

March 18, 2016

Money Goes Around The World in New Ways

Posted by Gururaj Deshpande (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:54 AM

Biometrics for Convenient yet Secure Payments [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obggR1jlw-4]

The lyrics to that old song are true: 'Money makes the world go round'. But did you ever wonder how in the era of digital devices and (potential) payments how money gets around the world? If you want a sense of just how important instant money transfers are to the economic health of the planet, head down to any remittance storefront in a Gulf country like the U.A.E. or Qatar. In those countries, where millions of people from North America, Western Europe, and South Asia, go to find jobs, an important part of the process is sending some of that hard earned cash back home. There, money transfer agents skim a healthy commission off the top of the transaction to ensure that people thousands of miles away will receive the cash in a matter of minutes.

The remittance business in countries that host a significant percentage of foreign workers has been a staple for decades. Even with the global economy stalled and with oil prices plummeting, economists at the World Bank estimate that next year the global remittance business will grow by a respectable 4 percent. But disruption can come along and affect even the most simple of businesses - which is exactly what's happening to the remittance industry.

Name me a growth business and I'll show you how new entrants with innovative ways of doing things appeals to an established customer base. There's a new television streaming service known as Pluto, for instance, that offers 100 channels of running content, including loads of old re-runs (but no original content). The appeal, the company discovered, was that watching TV is a linear experience and it structured its service to feed into that need. Other streaming services didn't quite get it.

It's no different than the remittance space. Companies are looking at it with fresh lenses. For one, banks are being squeezed by interest rates that continue to dwell at rock bottom lows. In turn, they have squeezed their customers with high fees Still, can you blame banks that are under the scrutiny of shareholders and regulators alike? The money transfer industry is a natural fit for banks with good digital platforms and a global presence of physical branches. That's not to say customers even need branches anymore, but for many of them, the sight of a smiling face at the service window is an assuring feeling that the transfer will get to his loved ones without a hiccup.

Banks aren't the only entities giving remittance agents a run for their money. MasterCard recently announced that it will soon offer an app that will utilize a combination of 'selfie' photos and fingerprints to send payments via smartphone. Granted, charge card payments might be a bit sophisticated for a part of the remittance market, but for those who do carry plastic, waiting in line at the remittance storefront will become a thing of the past.

Financial technology startups are also leveraging all that is digital to bring down those hefty commissions. Every penny counts, and fintech firms that are edging into the remittance space are offering far more competitive rates to send cash overseas. Those that need to send cash can tap into one of many fintech services on their smartphones and move the money more efficiently and more cheaply. To be sure, in order to be above-board and compliant with international financial standards, every transfer agent must have some sort of relationship with a registered banking institution. So even the most traditional agents have begun to see the advantage of using digital services to settle and clear payments with intermediaries. When costs of doing business with these financial services giants go up, it's only natural that the transfer agent will look for more efficient platforms that enable more to be done with fewer resources.

Remember: Some of these businesses have significant portions of their operations in parts of the world where law enforcement agencies are scrutinizing every transaction and following every payment. That process in itself costs the transfer agent money and time. That's why the more innovative the digital solution, the more likely it is that the agent will flock to new ways of doing things in one of the world's oldest businesses.

March 15, 2016

Is This A Back Door We Can All Handle?

Posted by Dr. Ashutosh Saxena (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:12 AM

David Chaum 'Godfather of anonymous communication' - BBC News [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXr_6jqBTj0]

Remember the 'God View' incident? A reporter was researching an article about Über that included - not surprisingly - riding around in the company's vehicles. Long story short: The company was accused of using a tool known as 'God View' to track the reporter. The tool allowed Über executives to get an aerial view of the area in which the reporter was riding as well as her personal information, according to law enforcement officers.

As part of its settlement with New York City's attorney general, Über "removed all personally identifiable information of riders from its system that provides an aerial view of cars active in a city, has limited employee access to personally identifiable information of riders, and has begun auditing employee access to personally identifiable information in general." So the next time you want to hitch a ride without anyone knowing about it, it seems you're able to do so. The incident captured the very essence of our digitally enabled society: Consumers want all the benefits and conveniences of mobile apps and ride services that track them, but also demand a complete cloak of anonymity and security. 

In cities like New York, where anyone who has ridden in one of its traditional yellow cabs has (at least one) nightmarish experience to share, Über and competitors like Lyft are generally welcomed additions to the transportation market. I find it somewhat amazing that a consumer would be shocked to learn that a tech-savvy company like Über could obtain aerial views of its cars and personal information of its clients. That's called data mining and it results in the service becoming evermore responsive to the consumer's needs. I suppose it's tough to satisfy every digital consumer.

I was reminded of a village in the state of Maharashtra, India called Shingnapur. Houses in the village do not have doors. Residents believe that a deity will protect their assets and punish anyone attempting a robbery. Yet, each house hangs curtains to retain privacy. The Internet is no different. The entire notion of privacy on the Internet, which has been percolating since the Wikileaks incident a few years ago, is a fascinating one because people want the world at their fingertips or at the swipe of a smartphone but don't want to divulge any information about themselves. How, then, are consumer-focused companies supposed to improve their services if they can't learn more about the expectations of their consumers?

One of the fathers of Internet security is a man named David Chaum who made waves when he discussed his latest project at Stanford University's Real World Crypto conference: PrivaTegrity. PrivaTegrity (he's been working on it for years with various academic institutions) creates a format in which secret and anonymous communications can take place that no eavesdropper can crack, whether it be a malicious hacker or an intelligence agency. Chaum has invented plenty of online privacy tools in the past, but this time round he is creating a back door as part of the overall PrivaTegrity platform. He is aware of the ramifications of creating a back door on a fully encrypted communications platform and the potential fallout that it could entail. So, he is creating a security council not unlike the one at the United Nations. This council would consist of managers of nine servers around the world with unique access to unlock a back door in the case of a threat to global security. No one manager could unlock the door. Not even eight of the nine - all nine managers must be in agreement to unlock a back door to allow access. Chaum described the security measure to Wired magazine as a back door with nine different padlocks on it. And the location of the servers? Chaum has said he would like them to be in democratic countries such as Iceland, Canada, and Switzerland.

In today's 'crypto-wars', which pit government authorities against the citizens they are sworn to protect, we're in unchartered territory. Companies, governments, and private citizens for the most part want to do the right thing in combatting the growing threat of cyber-crime but also want to preserve notions of privacy. It's an incredibly tough issue to balance and the likelihood of all parties going home fully pleased with the eventual outcome is close to none. But at least experienced Internet personalities like Chaum are part of the debate and are proposing very reasonable solutions to how we can all move forward in a new and challenging digital marketplace.

March 8, 2016

Insurance Companies Are Taking A Quantum Leap

Posted by Mohan Babu (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:45 AM

Insured for the Digital Future [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?x6iYS44F4ts]

According to a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Microsoft has not been shy about expressing its interest in creating the essential building block of a quantum computer. The quantum computer would be a quantum leap in human progress. It would be able to tackle calculations that today's computers simply are incapable of carrying out. Microsoft is already talking about the many applications of such a super-computer - an innovation that could potentially turn around the technology industry altogether.

I bring up the quantum computer because I want to create a dichotomy for my readers. Now that you're excited and thinking about what a completely new kind of computer could do, switch gears and think about an industry where innovation has been, until very recently, almost non-existent: insurance. Known to be a conservative industry, insurance has traditionally been sold rather than being bought - a business model that has remained just the way it is for centuries.

But, things are changing. Recently, MetLife, announced that it is considering spinning off its core life insurance business, as part of a plan to ease some of the capital burden it is expected to face under new federal regulations. Frankly, I think splitting up a huge company that has been resistant to technological innovation could be the best thing for it. There are many innovative insurance startups that sense how the larger, entrenched insurance companies have been out of touch with the digital expectations of consumers. One such company that I am impressed with is Oscar, a new, innovative health insurance startup that takes a moribund industry and pumps the same kind of 'can-do' spirit that Microsoft is doing with the quantum computer. Just recently, Oscar announced that it had 125,000 customers. In a funding round in spring last year, financiers valued the company at US$ 1.5 billion, and it proceeded to receive US$ 145 million in seed funding from venture capitalists.

Oscar's stated goal is to sign up 1 million customers within the next five years. That might not be a number that a behemoth like MetLife considers to be significant, but in a constantly evolving market, startups like Oscar are smart enough to sense the transformations that the industry is going through, and a combined mass of small startups could be the start of a seismic shift in the insurance market, bringing in a wind of big change that could change the insurance industry landscape. At the heart of such sweeping changes lies a very simple fact - 'what customers want.'

With new technologies taking the market place by storm, insurance players in the market are either on the cutting edge or waking up to new ground realities. Customer engagement has become the new mantra as insurance players join each other in a fierce competition to win the race. One interesting development in recent times has been the rise of automated advice services, popularly known as 'robo-advisors'. It is an attractive option for self-directed customers who want to avoid the costs of going out to a human advisor, or would prefer to purchase insurance by themselves. Already a two-year old trend in the U.S., it is quickly catching up in other parts of the world with more and more people opening up to the idea of being advised without any human intervention. Another recent disruption has come in the form of wearable technology, which is opening up new opportunities for insurance players. Acclaimed as a technology breakthrough, wearables are being increasingly used by insurers to offer well-being benefits to a new class of health conscious customers who are open to innovative insurance products being priced appropriate to their health conditions.

These new disruptive forces are leading to a regime of value-added engagement with customers, though most insurers are still lagging behind. But it will not be long before all insurance companies realize the value of consumer engagement which is at the core of the evolution of the industry, not to mention the dramatic growth of start-ups like Oscar. It is time that Insurers force themselves to take the quantum leap.

March 3, 2016

This Year, Look Out For These Innovations

Posted by Prasad Joshi (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:42 AM

This Year, Watch Out For These Innovations

Data That's Driven by Creativity: Look for a paradigm shift in data analytics this year. Whereas enterprises are just getting comfortable with the array of suites and solutions that allow them to parse enormous data sets into actionable information, they'll begin to question to what extent, if any, does becoming captive to all that data do away with a company's culture of innovation and creativity. The answer will be that Big Data will increasingly be used to encourage the creative side of the company instead of stifle it. This will be made possible by boundaryless information platforms, as Infosys refers to as creativity-driven data usage. This will enable real-time analytics to run along with business focused analytics apps and visualization to get more insight about customers and operations, equipping the right people in organizations with right information at the right time.

Crowd Capitalism: Look for a sea change in how Wall Street works during 2016 because crowd-funding has arrived. Don't confuse it with feel-good Grameen Bank-style solicitations for enough pennies to lift people out of poverty. Technology (and ensuing regulations) is becoming such that people can buy directly into IPOs and promising startups. No middleman taking a commission. Democracy is coming to Wall Street this year.

Bionic Hearing: Where there's a demand for headphones that can pump out music and telephone conversations louder than ever before, there is also a technology that counteracts the damage being done to our eardrums. Bionic hearing aids are here - and they're earbuds as well. Look for them to be one of the hottest technologies of 2016 as digital users seek to block out ambient sounds in order to hear their music more clearly. That way, they won't have to turn up their volumes as high and risk further damage to their hearing. Consumers are finally learning the difference between sound quantity and quality. The best part is that bionic hearing gear is controlled by an app on a mobile device. So wherever your loud music goes, so does this piece of restorative medical technology.

Solar Cells That Are as Clear as Glass: Is there anything uglier than 1970s-style solar panels affixed to the roofs of buildings--especially houses? OK, we get it. You value the energy thrown off by the sun's rays. But there has to be a more aesthetically pleasing way to harness solar power. Enter solar panels that are as clear and transparent as windows. The ramifications of this innovation are tremendous. Think about entire steel and glass skyscrapers covered in clear solar panels. Inhabitants wouldn't even know that the windows they look out of are absorbing precious solar energy and powering the building. From buildings, that same technology can be used as the screen in mobile telephones, which, left within the rays of the sun, can absorb enough energy so that they never have to be plugged into a wall outlet again. Solar harvesting surfaces will become ubiquitous without consumers even knowing they're surrounded by them.

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