5 ways IoT is transforming the retail sector as we know it

Retailers are on the brink of a new industrial revolution as the Internet of Things (IoT) unleashes an era of hyper-personalization and data-fueled innovation.

The Internet of Things is a transformative technology, one that promises to bring retailers ever-greater knowledge about the world in which they operate. Sensors are are becoming more and more embedded into items across the business’ operations; from clothing merchandise and food packaging to in-store shelving, shopping trolleys, delivery vans and even staff uniforms.

These microchips transmit a wide variety of data about the status of the objects – such as their position, location, temperature, and usage – connecting every part of the retail process to the internet.

Is your business plagued by shortages of certain stock keeping units (SKUs) and out-of-stocks? Do you lack clear knowledge about customer demand? Is there a lopsided relationship between your online and offline offerings? IoT is not about big budgets and sci-fi technology; it is about quickly deploying relatively inexpensive technology to address these above questions.

Many retailers are just beginning to grasp the huge opportunities that this upsurge of information will bring. Here are five ways IoT is transforming key areas of retail:

1. Product Design and Development

It is important to remember that the data transmitted from IoT sensors in consumer products will inform the design and creation of new products. Retailers will assume a new role in industrial strategy, feeding data into the production process about the way shoppers buy products. For instance, matching data about sales and climate can suggest how sales of different products are affected by the weather. This can aid manufacturers in planning their production runs.

Meanwhile, advances in 3D printing are opening up new routes for rapid prototyping, so designers will be able to test out insights from data by creating new experimental products with ease. The growth of virtual reality and artificial reality technologies will be another boon to innovation, as new products can be envisioned in a virtual environment as part of the testing phase before companies commit to development.

Products will increasingly be designed with the IoT in mind. This will require collaboration between retailers and manufacturers as they will use this connectivity in their merchandising and sales strategies. 

2. Distribution

Retailers need to consider how they can extend the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags to gather more data about the distribution chain. The technology has been around for decades and, as the price of the tags has fallen, it is being more widely implemented.

The tags are attached to pallets or to individual stock keeping units (SKUs). The devices broadcast an identification code which can be scanned by a RFID reader so goods can be identified and located without requiring the line of sight needed by barcodes.

This is leading to smarter supply chains and better identification of stock. US egg suppliers Trillium and Centrum Valley Farms are using RFID-enabled pallets to track the location of stock and evaluate distance, time and other “chain of custody” data. They also use sensors to track temperature, shock and vibration.

RFID also opens up the possibility of “one in, one out” stock keeping. Global fashion chain Zara uses RFID technology to identify sales of items. Every time one is bought, another is ordered automatically from the warehouse. This improves on-shelf availability so customers have access to the most popular sizes and styles.

Capgemini has developed a system where RFID tags are recognized in a clothes retailer’s fitting room and trigger an immersive interactive display on a wall-mounted touchscreen. This features product images and information, offering opportunities for cross-selling while also collecting data on fitting patterns and sales trends to drive decision-making and analysis.

3. Customer Experience

As retailers iterate their IoT strategies, they must put the interests of the customer at the heart of their thinking. IoT can provide reams of data that aid the retailer, but customers must see that they are benefiting from the technology as they are required to opt in to sharing data.

One of the big gains for consumers from IoT will be using data to offer shoppers ever-more personalized experiences. Retailers and consumer goods companies will collect data from customers’ in-store interactions, their online behavior and the goods they buy. They will merge this information with other personal data, assuming consumers give them permission. This single customer view will help retailers and manufacturers create a “shopper genome” where each individual consumer and household has its own shopper profile. Retailers and manufacturers will be able to offer goods tailored to the needs of consumers.  

This will make shopping more convenient and will reduce the amount of irrelevant marketing directed at consumers.

Beacon technology offers a glimpse of the type of personalization that IoT makes possible. US department store Macy’s uses Shopkick Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons in many of its stores. This allows it to detect a customer’s exact location inside the store and send messages to the customer’s smartphone if they opt-in. They can send discount coupons and rewards for goods based on the customer’s location in the store.

Beacons are still at the experimental stage, but retailers need to experiment with them to get a feel for the opportunities that IoT offers.

4. Store Operations

Improved stock control is potentially a big win from IoT technology. Real-time data analysis can contribute to significant cost savings. For instance, Tesco claims it saved £100m in stock waste by analyzing historical weather data and matching it with sales patterns and geographic detail to predict what produce would sell from different stores at certain times.

Retailers are already collecting data from multiple sources, but they are struggling to connect the data together. Many are failing to combine enterprise resource planning data and product management information, data about online transactions and interactions, data from supplier management and many other sources.

Combining different data sources can create some surprising results. For instance, a European retailer connected its warehouse delivery system with traffic data to forecast the most effective schedules for sending delivery trucks so they weren’t spending hours stuck in traffic jams. Connecting these data sources has allowed the retailer to save money and time.

5. Customer Service

Today’s shoppers expect store chains to be at the forefront of digital technology and will quickly migrate towards those retailers offering a seamless shopping service. A study by Forrester Consulting of 1500 consumers in the US, France, the UK and Germany showed that 71% expect to view in-store inventory online and 69% expect staff to be “armed with a mobile device.”

IoT will boost customer service in a variety of ways. Specific goods will be easier to locate in-store using RFID tags. Staff with connected devices will be able to give shoppers in-depth information about product ranges, prices and usage information. Check-out queues could become a thing of the past if the Amazon Go model takes off.

Sensors embedded in products will allow retailers and manufacturers to track when those goods need servicing, especially for high-value brown and white goods. The industry will be able to use remote diagnostics to identify when a product is likely to breakdown, then get in touch with the consumer to suggest they have the item serviced.

Looking ahead, the race to embed the Internet of Things into retail operations requires a deep-rooted organizational transformation. Retailers must foster an entrepreneurial spirit of trial and error among managers and a willingness to collaborate with peers across the supply chain. This will pave the way for a new, more personalized and efficient form of retailing.

 

 

7 lessons from developing a voicebot using Amazon Lex

I spent the past five months developing an AI-powered VoiceOps interface for the enterprise. Since Amazon Lex wasn’t available at the time, my team open-sourced the project. We successfully launched it into production in February; it is now live with several customers, helping them prioritize problem resolution for enterprise apps. More recently, we started beta testing with Lex. Now that Lex is widely available to developers, I wanted to share with others some advice and best practices, based on our experiences.

1. Limit intent scope

One of the foundations of building a voicebot is to be able to infer the user’s intention from a spoken phrase. One of the things we quickly learned was to avoid combining too many related phrases into a single intent. For example, we originally mapped questions like “Are there any problems at the moment?” or “Have any problems affected travel this week?” to the same problem intent, which just overloaded the bot’s logic. A better approach is to keep the scope of each intent as limited as possible.

2. Use natural-ish language

You’re going to be tempted to add as many phrases as possible so that the user can speak naturally without having to worry about a specific required syntax. However, too many similar but different phrases can confuse the classifier and cause unexpected results. We found that it’s much better to have a smaller subset of specific phrases that are sufficiently distinct. Lex may be more restrictive than true natural language, but it makes the results more consistent.

3. Context matters

It might seem that matching a phrase with a specific intent would be straightforward but, without context, it becomes confusing. For example, if a user says “yes” to a question, you need to store enough contexts in the voicebot to know exactly which question the user is answering.

4. Accommodate accents and special words

Accents and different pronunciations can be tricky for voicebots. In my experience, Lex works best with a Midwest American accent! But if you know your application is going to be used by people with a range of accents, it all comes down to training the system. You have to accurately train the voicebot to learn each very specific phrase and pronunciation so that the system knows how to match it with the desired intent. The same goes for specific words. For example, our company’s name, Dynatrace, is not in Lex’s dictionary. It hears “diner” or the name “Dinah,” so we had to train it to recognize not just the word, but also the specific actions and intents associated with its use when spoken.

5. Be extensible

The key to being successful with voicebot development is to think broadly and laterally about all its potential use cases. Don’t limit yourself.

6. Prepare to fail fast and often

There’s plenty of documentation that comes with Lex, but it can be technical and overwhelming — so much so that you might not want to experiment. But the good news is that, despite the complexity of building voicebots, Lex makes it simple to create test apps and quickly discover what works and what doesn’t so you can learn as you go.

7. Look back to the future

Most parsing services such as Amazon Lex will assume a future intent. For instance, if a user says “What happened on Thursday?” she is obviously asking about something that happened in the past. However, Lex doesn’t inherently understand that. This is more of a challenge with the current state of natural language processing (NLP) and not a Lex-specific problem. As companies like Amazon invest in NLP, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to distinguish timeframes with more clarity. But in the meantime, making tense super-specific is something developers will need to factor in.

Michael Beemer is a DevOps engineer at Dynatrace and led the VoiceOps development team for Davis, Dynatrace’s AI-powered digital performance virtual assistant.



Above: The Machine Intelligence Landscape This article is part of our Artificial Intelligence series. You can download a high-resolution version of the landscape featuring 288 companies by clicking the image.

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Is selling just about getting to the end, closing the deal, or is how you get there as important?’

Most people not familiar with sales would pretty quickly highlight the archetypal salesman of used cars and the ongoing scandal of mis-sold financial products such as payment protection insurance or PPI as clearly unethical and in many cases illegal. Put in place decent regulation and business processes, and the problem will disappear.

But it won’t, until business leaders consider two issues that are important for all types of company. Firstly, it’s not easy because regulation is retroactive and there will always be new types of product and ways of selling that rapidly outpace any rules we have, and you can’t rein in a selling culture, and indeed national culture, by making piecemeal changes in processes. Secondly, the subject of ethical selling and business ethics in wider contexts is much more complicated and multifaceted than just mis-selling. Put simply, is selling just about getting to the end, closing the deal, or is how you get there as important?

Addressing the big picture of ethical selling means your company will be much better placed to deal with change and keep ahead of the competition in the reputation stakes.

Many company executives, unless they’ve been involved in sales, don’t appreciate just how multidimensional selling is. Apart from the organisational and psychological skills necessary to progress a deal through an often long sales cycle, ethics alone can be a big and complex concern.

In our Institute of Sales Management (ISM) qualifications for salespeople, understanding the law and ethics of selling is a fundamental module and, in addition to knowing aspects of law such as contract law, data and consumer protection, and the sale of goods act, salespeople have to know what constitutes misleading actions or omissions, and aggressive and banned practices such as bribery.

Some of these may be written in law, but there are many everyday ethical dilemmas that salespeople, especially, encounter such as whether to promise a delivery date that probably won’t be met or whether to correct a beneficial assumption made by a buyer about a product feature that isn’t quite right.

Ethics apply also within a company, as salespeople and sales managers are often under constant pressure to account for data that directly affects shareholder value and corporate reputation. Salespeople have to juggle a large number of personal and corporate value judgments, and there is sometimes no right answer that will satisfy all their stakeholders.

We know though that buyers greatly value the knowledge and service they get from the best salespeople as a deal progresses as much if not more than the product or service they are buying, which is why one company will consistently win even in commodity markets driven by price. In complex corporate contracts, the effect is magnified. The salesperson who has an open and honest approach is far more likely to develop trust than one whose eye is always on the next deal.

At the ISM, we assess the attributes of salespeople for professionalism in terms of how well they can seek out mutually aligned value for customers and their own organisations. Win-win may be a well-worn cliché, however it underpins both ethical selling and high performance. But salespeople have to apply it across a wide range of skills and activities, from customer contact and engagement, to negotiation and closing, to managing information and deploying the right business skills such as value judgments.

There’s one more point I want to stress. All this also depends on your company taking an ethical stance. The best salespeople can be forced to compromise their values if they are ordered to take shortcuts to bring in a deal in a certain quarter, for example.

Your salespeople are the primary and often most important customer-facing representatives of your company, which is why they must reflect the business goals and ethics you put in place at the top. Your professionalism depends on putting professionalism into selling – and that’s just what we do.

The post Is selling just about getting to the end, closing the deal, or is how you get there as important?’ appeared first on Raconteur.

 

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Insects are revealing how AI can work in society

What’s the secret to unlocking artificial intelligence (AI) and making it ubiquitous in our everyday lives? The answer may lie with the most abundant animals on earth — insects.

The behavioral adaptations of insects could help commercial organizations overcome a significant hurdle for AI adoption today: cost. The cost to design, produce, and implement this technology is still prohibitive for practical uses. As a result, research-focused competitions have played an important role in addressing current business challenges by applying new design techniques and strategies and showcasing new technology.

At the Silk Road Robotic Innovation Competition (SRRIC) held last month at Xi’an Jiao Tong University in China, a team of engineering students from Washington University in St. Louis demonstrated FlowBot, a low-cost, autonomous vehicle that avoids objects and navigates just like an insect does.

Insects lack the binocular vision of humans to perceive depth. Instead, they use an optical flow method to perform basic functions, such as obstacle avoidance, stable maneuvering, and navigation. While the insect brain is clearly not as sophisticated as the human brain, insects are among the most agile creatures on this planet. Inspired by this, a team of engineers sought to build a robust, low-power autonomous robot modeled after an insect’s nimble characteristics. One goal for the team of five students was to create a hardware system for intelligent robots at a much lower cost than current hardware platforms.

While there is an abundance of AI software startups, the design, assembly, and fabrication of hardware components for AI, in addition to the power consumption of hardware systems, are far from cheap. For the small and medium-size businesses that can’t afford to use the expensive, heavy-duty, and power-hungry sensors and processors used by current models of self-driving cars, for example, research into alternative technology platforms is critical to widespread adoption.

Universities from around the world gathered at this year’s SRRIC to demonstrate everything from smart farm robots and an amphibious vehicle for underwater operation to intelligent medical rehabilitation assistants and fabric-weaving robotics for large-scale material manufacturing. When some of the brightest engineering minds in the world are incentivized to further technology development and deepen international engagement, they discover synergies between various areas of expertise and identify opportunities to share resources across borders.

This competition, and many like it, demonstrates that making AI technology practical and useful for robotics and various IoT applications is not about building a car that is 100 percent reliable or a robot that never bumps into things, but rather about how to develop a system that is resilient and self-healing.

Some of the most successful examples of resilient robotic technology originated in nature. Raytheon, a defense technology company, has been testing autonomous robots with distributed brain structures designed after octopus brains to help the machines better adapt to their surroundings. This technology may one day help control autonomous drone swarms for critical missions.

Similarly inspired by how an insect perceives and navigates the world, the FlowBot runs an optical flow algorithm. FlowBot uses only a single front-facing camera to achieve autonomous obstacle avoidance capability on a Pi Car four-wheel robot. The efficient visual algorithm doesn’t require significant computational power — perfect for the Pi Car platform, which targets autonomy for small-scale systems.

This isn’t the first time insects have been used to advance robotic technology. Biological sensing systems are far more complex than their engineered counterparts, and engineers have leveraged the locust’s sense of smell to create new biorobotic sensing systems that could be used in homeland security.

Engineers aiming to create AI that’s as lifelike as possible should ask themselves: Why reinvent the wheel? By taking advantage of the biological solutions, engineers can cut down on costs for research and development, and align technology with processes that already exist in nature.

The simplest creatures, like insects, can offer insights and inspirations that significantly advance man-made systems in responsiveness, robustness, and energy efficiency. FlowBot and Pi Car have demonstrated tremendous opportunity for the development and production of cheap and easily reproducible AI swarm products that could bring AI into our daily lives to accomplish sophisticated tasks, even if not every single one succeeds.

Xuan “Silvia” Zhang is an assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Debunking the sales ‘boys’ club’

It’s an all too familiar picture. “I’ve literally lost count of the number of times I’ve been the only female on my team,” says Val Agnew, global account director at Verizon Enterprise Solutions, who was formerly a regional and global sales manager with BT.

Some might say it’s hardly surprising as technology is structurally male dominated, so for any function within it, female numbers lessen even further. As research by LinkedIn shows, IT has one of the lowest percentages of women in sales – 25 per cent compared with 50 per cent in media. But others argue there’s something more pernicious that because sales is broadly still a statistically male profession, there’s inherent hiring bias. Men hire more men because that’s what they know.

“Sales is still very much a boys’ club,” concedes James Montgomery, Verizon’s human resources director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “It’s an industry problem, which is why we’ve decided to make a conscious effort to address it. We have a staff referral system, where staff can introduce friends to the business, but we specifically don’t allow this in sales because the laddish, mates-club reputation sales has needs to be broken.”

Pushing for diversity

According to Mr Montgomery, not intervening is no longer an option and it’s only by committing to have diversity high on the agenda that practices change. He runs training for managers to counter unconscious bias and accepts recruitment will take longer to find more women candidates, a strategy he calls “having diversity intent, rather than positive discrimination”.

Afi Ofori, who runs the Women in Sales Awards, says: “We phone up companies who say they don’t have any women, but they don’t know why, yet to me the answer has to be that men, whether deliberately or not, do stick to a group-think mentality.”

One problem Ms Ofori does accept is that firms also tell her they can only hire who applies to them in the first place, so any gender debate needs to look at the role recruitment agencies play in presenting more female talent, but also the perception of the sector to begin with. However good the intent, firms can’t hire if the talent isn’t there.

“The stereotype of the pushy car salesman still exists, meaning girls at school don’t see sales as something that attracts them,” says Ms Ofori.

Denise Bryant, group managing director at the Association of Professional Sales, says: “Sales per se needs to be seen as a more professional career to begin with. We’ve developed accredited level 4 to 6 apprenticeships schemes for this very reason. Through professionalism sales then ceases to be a gender problem, helping all, but particularly women.”

Gender gap in sales

There’s no reason to suggest women, once in sales, won’t thrive. Research proves women demonstrate higher emotional intelligence. “Customers have changed, they already know about products, they want to feel involved in the buying decision,” says Ms Ofori. “It’s not that men can’t do this, but women are very good at cultivating rapport.”

Another organisation determined to ensure women are attracted into the sector is Jardine Motors, one of the UK’s largest car dealerships. “A few years ago we interviewed 1,000 people from groups we wanted to hire and found just 2 per cent of women felt the car industry was where they wanted a career,” says Clare Martin, group human resources director. “We also found women got their view of sales from how they’d been sold to, which was predominantly by men.”

Measures it’s taking to appeal more to women include rolling out five-day working weeks by 2018 – the sector typically sells seven days a week. It has also boosted base salaries from £14,000 to £20,000 a year. It’s often said commission puts women off sales because it creates job insecurity and perpetuates a hard-selling culture associated with men.

The laddish, mates-club reputation sales has needs to be broken

But Ms Martin argues the biggest impact has been changing the language in job ads and showcasing females on its website. “In January we got 600 applications for our New Year intake; those making it to assessment were 80:20 male-female. Since making changes, our most recent assessment has seen a 50:50 male-female split,” she says.

Ms Martin echoes the popular sentiment that women must be hired on merit rather than meeting a gender quota, but Mr Montgomery argues there is benefit having senior saleswomen in position. “As a sector, we’re hampered by gender, so we’ve taken the view having female sales leaders has a larger impact than, say, having more women lower down because it could well be they’re more likely to hire more women, all things being equal,” he says.

Ms Ofori concludes: “We should even be more honest in calling sales ‘sales’. Hiding it behind titles like account manager or client director perpetuates the notion sales is somehow a dirty word. We should all, male or female, be proud to call where we work sales.”

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The 3 Mentors You Need To Become A More Effective Entrepreneur

For entrepreneurs in every industry, there’s one thing in common: we’re always moving. With a fast-paced lifestyle and little time for anything other than what’s necessary, there are often many areas of life and leadership that get neglected. But there is one critical element of leadership that cannot be forgotten in the midst of entrepreneurial hustle – the value of mentorship.

I’ve worked with mentors my entire career. Mentorship has singlehandedly been the most important factor in my career and in my life. Mentors are the reason I was able to follow a successful path, learn the ins and outs of networking and advance my career. But making the shift from being a professional to a full-time entrepreneur created new challenges – I needed new mentors with entrepreneurial experience. I learned quickly moving into life as an entrepreneur that if I was going to be successful, I needed the same magnitude of mentors – just with entrepreneurial experience and connections.

Entrepreneurs who have found success are – in my experience – willing and grateful to share their experiences. You just need to be bold and strategic in seeking out mentors, followed by being intentional in the way you work with them. So, start somewhere. Network, find mentors who inspire you and who emulate the knowledge you want to know, the way you want to lead and the habits you want to copy.

To make sure you’re most effective in the complex world of entrepreneurship, here are the mentors you’ll want in your corner:

  1. A leadership mentor.
    Being an entrepreneur and leading a nonprofit or tech company is more than simply knowing your market and your business – it also involves a heavy dose of leadership over the people who contribute to your vision every day. Leading a team is hard. It takes years of cultivating experience, mentality and character, and if you’re a young leader it may not come as easily or as quickly as you hoped. Work with a mentor willing to share their leadership lessons – the pitfalls and the successes – to help train you in leading and inspiring your team with competency and compassion.
  2. A tactical mentor.
    As I’ve navigated the pains and gains of being a new startup founder, I’ve often thought “I wish someone would just tell me what to do!” While you ultimately need to know your market and business, having a tactical mentor to help you with operational elements and tactical questions can help tremendously. Whether you talk through your businesses’ strategy or discuss entrepreneurial best practices, a tactical mentor can help take the guesswork out of leading a startup as a first-time founder. As you learn and grow, you’ll be able to contribute similar advice to others who come after you.
  3. A personal mentor.
    When you’re growing a business as an entrepreneur, you often need to make sacrifices for your company or organization. This means giving up your evenings, weekends or even opting out of extracurricular activities. But all entrepreneurs need to remember that balance is key. A personal mentor – who’s also understanding of your professional life – is important in making sure you’re fulfilled and healthy. If your business fails, what’s left? Making sure you’re spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health are in order is important to being an effective leader and will help you avoid the pitfalls of burnout. Leverage a personal mentor to keep you accountable and help bring perspective on the decisions you’re making in business and how they impact you in life.

Said profoundly by Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The power of mentorship cannot be understated. By working with a mentor, you’ll learn and grow personally, professionally and tactically.

No matter what industry you operate in, whether you’re leading a nonprofit or a tech startup, find a mentor – or a group of them – who will invest in you and help you achieve your goals of making an impact as you learn to live and lead effectively.

 

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CIOs are totally stressed out: Here’s how to help

In the course of researching a marketing campaign aimed at IT professionals, I have interviewed dozens of such workers over the past year. Some are middle-aged; some are very young. I’ve talked to men and women in all parts of the country who worked at large and small firms.

One thing that struck me is that I have not met a single one who was relaxed. They are all stressed and have no time. They are tortured souls who are constantly checking their phones. They live their lives on the edge of disaster.

Perhaps this isn’t true across the board. A 2016 survey from TEKsystems showed that IT workers were less stressed than a few years ago. Yet even in that survey, the workers’ job satisfaction was low with less than one half agreeing that they were doing the most satisfying work of their careers.

For businesses, this is a major problem. To stay on the right side of digital transformation, a company needs an energetic and engaged IT department. Yet low satisfaction leads to increasing anomie. If it continues, IT workers will move on to another company, since they are so in demand.

The good news is that this is merely a transitional moment. As automation accounts for more and more IT work, the position will be less consumed with grunt work and will be more about improving the overall business. In my opinion, being a CIO is a more attractive role than it has ever been.

Sources of discontent

The biggest pain points for IT administrators right now is that they’re being asked to implement so many things that they can’t keep up. Some CIOs spend as much as 80 percent of their budgets maintaining the status quo.

That leaves a small amount of the budget to grow or change or innovate just as businesses and their customers are asking for more and more from IT. For instance, employees take it for granted today that they should be able to access any data they want at any time from any device.

The end result of this is often shadow IT in which workers go around the IT department and purchase their own solutions, often compromising security.

To add to this, IT administrators have less power over their budgets than they used to. Gartner predicts that in 2017 the CMO will have more IT purchasing power than the CIO. Budgets are usually allocated at the department level so the head of a department can pursue her own IT solution independent of the CIO.

Looking at these factors, it’s no mystery why CIOs are often so miserable. Occupational therapists say that control is the key factor related to job satisfaction. That explains why plumbers who run their own businesses are happier in general than doctors and lawyers who don’t. An IT director in 2017 has little control over her budget and how workers are buying and using IT. At the same time, she absorbs the blame if something goes wrong.

The happy CIO

The biggest way to alleviate this psychic pain is to restructure your data center. A lot of the stress of the IT administrator job is related to maintaining a legacy system. Traditionally, an IT system is based on a three-tier infrastructure, including computing, storage and networking.

On top of that, there’s another layer of operations management that includes software, virtualization, applications and the management of all those things. Those are four teams. That does not provide a lot of synergy and makes things complicated. Every time a CIO wants to deploy something, she will spend a lot of energy architecting a solution to work within those constructs. Such deployment can take weeks or months, which can’t keep up with workers’ demands.

Such infrastructures can be replaced by converged or hyperconverged platforms, which remove that front-end architecture and allow for deployment in minutes or days. Maintenance is also easier with such a system.

Another benefit of this approach is that IT workers can be generalists rather than specialists. There’s no need to have a networking expert on hand, for instance.

That is the way forward. A converged platform and increasing automation will help a CIO become more of a generalist and combine that knowledge with business acumen. As a result, the CIO of the future will worry less about keeping the lights on and more about P&L.

That’s why even though we’re in a transitional period right now, there is no better time to be an IT administrator. With fewer day-to-day headaches and more say as to the overall direction of the company, the CIO’s job satisfaction will rise. Perhaps someday soon they will even be as happy as plumbers.

This article was written by Don Frame from CIO and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Digitalisation Requires a Radical Change in Organisational Culture

By 2025 about 40% of Fortune-500 companies are likely to vanish due to megatrends like digitalisation. How can you save your company from disappearance and save jobs? One way is to ensure that your organisation is ready for the digital age, whereby you must address your organisation’s culture. State-of-the-art technology alone won’t turn you into a digital master.

Key Points of a Digital Culture Transformation

1. What is organizational culture? Before starting the digital culture transformation journey, the understanding of the core culture (see Fig. 1) is crucial for success. It consists of (easily alterable) visible artifacts (e.g. office design), invisible espoused values (e.g. rules) and basic assumptions (e.g. attitudes). Espoused values and basic assumptions change over time when leveraging the right triggers.

2. What is digital culture and how can we assess it? Eight specific dimensions define the digital viability of an organisation’s DNA: Digital leadership, digital technology & processes, autonomous working conditions, agility, entrepreneurship, collaboration, innovation & learning, and customer orientation. The Digital Culture Assessment (DCA) highlights the well-developed dimensions and dimensions with a need for improvement.

3. How to design a culture change? The journey to culture change is based on the results of the Digital Culture Assessment (DCA). A comprehensive transformation design triggers the corporate parameters and therefore, achieves a mindset change

1.     What is Organisational Culture?

Before we understand what digital culture is, we first need to understand corporate culture in general terms. The CEO is in charge of cultural change and must have a deep understanding of the different layers and its respective elements and meanings in order to achieve change. Many CEOs struggle with illustrating culture because there is no tangible output that an organisation produces – corporate culture is just “there”. It is the company’s DNA – the way an organisation “smells” and “behaves” with visible and invisible elements. Corporate culture is the host of visible manners and rituals, named artifacts, invisible espoused values and basic assumptions, by which a company differs from its environment. Culture influences decision making, behaviour and the motivation of employees – thus, individual and company performance. 

 

 

But how to trigger change of your core culture? An organisation can easily change artifacts (like an office design) but it is clear that it can’t just change espoused values or basic assumptions which were around for decades – a practical approach is needed here. In the light of experience, changing the corporate parameters triggers a shift of the core culture. Therefore, changing the corporate parameters becomes a crucial precondition for modifying the core culture.

 

 

The corporate parameters comprise of vision & strategyleadership & peopleprocesses & organisational structure. When addressing vision & strategy the objective is to achieve a clear picture of the future culture, align it accordingly, and enable leadership to communicate the future vision & strategy. Managers need to help stakeholders understand the cultural journey by cascading a compelling change story with innovative communication formats. Enabling leadership & people to understand and adopt new behaviours is key when bringing new values to live. Through practical formats employees see and feel the new world – the Capgemini Applied Innovation Exchange is a suitable format to “feel the future”. Corporate culture must be anchored in the processes & organisational structure. A network of multipliers (e.g. change agents) can support the implementation of new ways of working. Organisational structures can facilitate (interdisciplinary) collaboration and prevent silo-thinking.

2.     What is Digital Culture?

In a pre-study of our soon appearing Change Management Study 2017, my colleagues Dominique Schaefer and Christopher Wolf defined the attributes of culture in organisations that are digitally savvy. Those attributes can be conflated into eight dimensions:

  • Digital Leadership
  • Digital technology & processes
  • Autonomous working conditions
  • Agility
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Collaboration
  • Innovation & learning
  • Customer orientation

In Phase One of the culture transformation project, an assessment is performed throughout the organisation to ascertain which digital dimension is strong and which dimensions require advancements. The focus lies on the latter.

What does it imply in terms of implementation? Here is an example for a better understanding: An assessment our fictional client MNO Technology & Co. reveals that there is need for improvement in digital leadership and innovation & learning. Dimensions that require improvement need to be addressed within the corporate parameters to sustainably anchor the dimensions. The dimensions require changes as follows:

Digital Leadership – In the digital age leaders need to be enabled to act as role models which requires a complementary learning journey for the leadership team. Furthermore, leaders in the digital era need to embrace the dimensions of digital culture, especially when it comes to new ways of working like agilityautonomous working, innovation & learning, etc. For further information on this topic please follow: www.bit.ly/leader40

Innovation & learning – A digital organization requires a setting that fosters creativity and rewards employees who are eager to try out new things. The organisation should be open to new ideas and be unafraid of making mistakes and celebrate failures. Leadership should introduce a platform where employees present their new ideas on a regular base. Predefined processes are needed when it comes to implementing new ideas. Otherwise, great ideas fall into oblivion and employees are discouraged to generate new ideas. Some organisations have a CINO or CITO (Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Technology Innovation Officer) who facilitate processes and implement new ideas.

3.     How to Design a Culture Change Journey?

Based on the results of the Digital Culture Assessment (DCA) we directly address the areas for improvement within the corporate parameters. Only by changing the corporate parameters, the core culture will change. When drafting a project plan for the culture transformation rollout, proven and innovative accelerator methods ensure a sustainable and successful digital culture transformation. For example, we fostered new ways of collaboration with a Digithon for an energy supplier where the client trainees developed a new learning app for more customer orientation.

Would you like to assess your own digital culture? Try the short version of the Digital Culture Assessment (DCA) and receive an individual report.

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This article was written by Yvette Zzauer from Capgemini: Capping IT Off and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Our search experience is changing, here’s where one CEO sees it going

Barring any major shakeups to our current internet due to net neutrality laws, internet search is continuing to evolve and change in ways that help the end user, as well as the companies providing the search functionality. Data consumption and gathering is at an all-time high and today’s modern search engine wants to consume it all in an effort to better lead you to your search goals and connect you with the brands you might have. Yes, there will be people that have issues with the amount of data being collected, but this is honestly just how it is now, data is going to be collected regardless, so it might as well help us out.

This data is coming from sources never before imagined. Take the Internet of Things, for example. This ever-growing web of stuff that is connected to the internet is more than just a convenient way to wash your clothes and brew your coffee, it’s data – data that can be processed, analyzed, and served back to you in ways you never would have connected. This is in part thanks to the leaps we’re seeing in artificial intelligence and where search is ultimately heading – conversational interfaces. Services like Apple’s Siri are a good example, but they are just starting to scratch the surface of what is possible.

I spoke with Nicolas Dessaigne, CEO of Algolia a bit about the future of search and conversational UI to get a glimpse of the world of search from an insider’s perspective. Algolia is a search-as-a-service provider that focuses on building a better search platform that can be implemented almost anywhere. Check out the interview below!

 

Nicolas Dessaigne

So, where does the future of search go from here? Are you going to help lead that charge?

Search is a conversation you have with your users, and the future of search is conversational UI. Not just using your voice as an input, but having a real, fluid conversation. We are already at work to make that a reality.

Is there anything that search engines (any of them, yours included), could really improve upon?

Putting aside big shifts like moving towards conversational interfaces, most improvements are incremental and happen every day. As a hosted search API, we have the benefit of being able to provide every one of our users with the result of every improvement we make. It’s what makes Algolia so successful. We are constantly pushing the engine further to provide advanced capabilities like personalization and offline search on mobile.

Is there a feature you would like to see from the search engine of the future that just currently isn’t possible due to tech limitations?

Conversational UI – that is, chatbots & voice search – is the future of search. The reason is simple: search is a conversation between your users & your product, and the more natural the conversation, the better the experience. Search & conversation rely on the same mechanics to be successful – speed, relevance, and experience. Much like Consumer-Grade Search, Conversational UI is reserved for the few who can afford to invest in it; just as Algolia has brought consumer-grade search to the masses, we would like to see conversational UI brought to everyone.

 

I’m just waiting for AI to be personified through the use of cute robots tbh

We rounded out the interview with a question that wasn’t really intended to be about search, but the answer ended up being surprisingly relevant.  Nicolas stated, “We actually don’t see ourselves as French nor American, but as a global company with a unique culture across offices. Our French origins helped us think globally from day one. Having multiple offices early on was a challenge but has become an advantage as it is now helping us to scale faster globally.”

By having a global view of culture early on, Algolia is able to look at search in a much broader range than other search companies that do not have that same global reach – giving them the ability to analyze how people across multiple countries and locations are using search to accomplish tasks that range from simple to complex and, in turn, offer a more comprehensive search experience through organic observation and data analysis. This type of forward thinking and immersion will be necessary as search continues to grow and transform.

 

This article was written by Josiah Motley from The Next Web and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Agile team organization – The key to success

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”Michael Jordan

I recently had the opportunity to conduct several agile trainings and workshops where I was requested to address “How do I optimize my agile practices to get my product in production every two to four weeks

Almost every client I work with, is challenged to rapidly releasing features to production. One common and substantial problem many of the teams encounter is that the setup and structure of their Agile teams directly affect their ability to deliver product to market in an accelerated manner.

An Agile team is cross functional comprising of developers, architects, designers and testers.

Teams (developers, architects and testers :) ) frequently tend to focus solely on their specific tasks (architecture, automation, tools, testing, development and technology)  losing sight of the primary component –  organization. 

One key aspect of the Agile manifesto that needs to be considered is how to organize the team in terms of value that drives domain, product and technology so that every opportunity to increase speed to market is taken. Speed and value are key. Quality is a given.

There are many ways to set up Agile teams. Below are a few key organizational principals to think through while setting up cross functional Agile teams

  1. Embark on the agile journey by building Value Stream/ Customer journey teams. Start with identifying streams that define a value to the customer in terms of return of revenue or a customer journey. For example if you are building a digital offering, identify components which bring tangible value in terms of added revenue, incremental revenue or retained revenue. Tangible value is the crux.
  2.  Decompose value streams or customer journeys into Product teams. A customer journey or value will typically span across multiple products. Product teamscarry the responsibility to build the entire product. For example, to deliver a digital platform with x return of investment which is my customer journey, I would need to build a payments product, a B2B product, a cash management system, an interface to my legacy applications and so on and so forth. 
  3. If a product is large (which will typically be the case), decompose Product teams into Feature teams. Feature teams focus on specifics. For example in a cash management system, it could be a credit life cycle management feature, a portfolio management feature, so on and so forth. This is the lowest level of  team decomposition which means all of the skills necessary to architect, develop and test the feature are in that team.
  4. Build cross functional Component teams and /or Architectural teams. If a feature is a house, then the Component teams or Architecture teams, are the ones building the walls, electrical and plumbing for the house. Examples include; technical components, such as communication protocols, security frameworks or database encapsulation services, which can be used by all the Feature teams.
  5. It is necessary to first build the Product teams/Feature teams and then identify Component teams/Architectural teams which will build components / architecture that the Feature teams will consume.
  6. In terms of execution, the Component/Architecture teams should ideally start their sprints/iterations earlier so that the basic components are available for the Feature teams to use.Reusability and standardization is key.

In summary, intelligently thinking what I should build that maximizes value, in bite sized chunks  and how I should organize my team is the key to success.

Agile teams must understand that value may increase or diminish over time and hence they need to continually inspect, adapt and reorganize.

This article was written by Deepika Mamnani from Capgemini: Capping IT Off and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Security in a cloud-native environment

In a time where services and their consumers are ubiquitous, security risks to enterprise systems and data are exploding. Security offerings from cloud service providers are promising but still traditional in nature and sometimes soft targets for security attacks.

While enterprise CIOs expect applications, infrastructures, and critical data to shift from behind the firewall to running in the cloud, system architects and designers find themselves juggling between custom security implantation and cloud providers’ offerings.

How strongly do you feel about internet traffic be safe from eavesdropping? Does the third-party fiber optic provider guarantee an intrusion-free pipe? Those are some interesting questions for CIOs, and most of the time the answer is not as expected. But organizations can boost their security systems to make it more and more difficult, expensive and time-consuming for hackers to infiltrate.

While there are many enterprise firewall and VPN appliance options available for data center or cloud environments, it is important that security features including access controls, authentication and authorizations are built into application layer rather than relying solely on network security. Application-level security implementation makes access control scalable, portable, and immutable. Access is governed based on real identity of an app or service or microservice rather than on human provisioning.

Security in the cloud

A secured system is a reliable system. Cloud-native applications are secured applications. Application code packaged and deployed across cloud regions is executed in various containers and is accessed by many clients or client applications. This makes it more critical to secure the applications in a cloud environment.

However, writing security code is less interesting than business logic and very often security-related tasks are left until the last moment, leading to major trade-offs in product security features. This is not a good practice.

If you are architecting a cloud solution that can scale to support large volume, can run across different data center instances, and can be provisioned semi or fully automatically, you need to consider security as one of the core building blocks of your architecture.

Cloud-native microservices are growing in numbers exponentially, and the rise of IoT is making ways to create more and more interfaces and service endpoints—this makes it more critical to secure application endpoints based on role-based authentication. Every incoming request knows the caller and its role with respect to the called application endpoint. These roles essentially determine if the calling client has enough privileges to perform the requested operation on the called application.

Patterns for authentication and authorizations

While there is nothing inherently “cloud native” about software security, there are some things to avoid and some best practices to embrace when securing cloud native apps that you plan to deploy in the cloud. There are many tools and technologies available to provide application security. Some of the most popular options in cloud are OAuth, OpenID, SAML, and HTTP Basic Authentication. While they all cover the same basics, there are fundamental differences in their approach and implementations.

OAuth (Open Authorization) as described in RFC 6749: “The OAuth 2.0 authorization framework enables a third-party application to obtain limited access to an HTTP service, either on behalf of a resource owner by orchestrating an approval interaction between the resource owner and the HTTP service, or by allowing the third-party application to obtain access on its own behalf.”

In simple words, OAuth is an open standard for token-based authorization and it allows a user’s account information to be used by third-party applications or systems, such as Facebook, without exposing users’ credentials in a controlled manner.

OpenID Connect is built on top of OAuth2 authorization framework and is intended to provide additional authentication capabilities. OpenID Connect is also aimed to reduce the complexity by avoiding XML and SOAP overheads as in the case of most SAML use cases. OpenID allows the user to be authenticated via third-party services known as identity providers. Users can choose their preferred OpenID providers to log in to the apps or systems that accept the OpenID authentication scheme.

SAML, an XML-based open standard data format for exchanging authorization and authentication data between a service provider that hosts web applications and a identity provider that maintain and provide electronic identity, such as Linkedin, Facebook, and Google. SAML provides a secure way of authenticating and authorizing users across an ever-expanding world of platforms. SAML also enables more robustness in a cloud-native way by enabling platform-independent access to web applications without the need of having IT teams involved for role provisioning.

Security at design, not bolted on

Architects and designers who follow the cloud-native way adhere to 12 factors of cloud-native application development, to build and implement a stateless service that uses externalized configuration. Some of the very basic design approaches when designing a secured cloud-native application are:

  • Credentials and endpoints: Always keep service credentials and source/target endpoints outside the memory. With this approach, an intruder will not have access to service credentials or target endpoints at anytime.
  • Caching: Cloud-native app need to scale to multiple instances, and apps should use an external cache such as Memcache or Redis. To support stateless design, apps should never store any information in memory any longer than request-execution time.
  • Personally identifiable information: Never write PII information to logs. Log streams are relatively insecure and contain information in plain text. Log streams are usually the soft targets for intruders.
  • Encrypt data at rest and in transit: This applies not only for cloud applications but also to data centers. Sensitive data should be encrypted while traveling through the network or when at rest in the repositories. IPSec and SSL/TLS come handy to encrypt data flowing through different networks.
  • Encryption resources: Al your encryption resources are fluid and dynamic in nature, and they must be cycled or renewed periodically. Encryption at the application, file, or database field level usually provides the highest level of security. However, apps much use a decentralized encryption and decryption approach. This not only provides better performance but also reduces points of failure.

Cloud security is a shared responsibility. Cloud vendors (both IaaS and PaaS) manage the security of the cloud, but it is responsibility of the customer to secure its application in the cloud. To fully secure their data, enterprise architects and technology teams should apply the best practices and design approaches that keep the applications and data safe and secured. Several best practices have emerged for application and data security in cloud, and they will continue to evolve. Security implementation cannot be an afterthought, and implementing it at the design level will help you protect the confidential data entrusted to organizations and maintain regulatory compliance.

 

This article was written by Vikas Shivpuriya from InfoWorld and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Taking mental health seriously is good for workers and business

Every organisation in the UK is affected by mental ill health in the workforce. At any one time, one worker in six will be experiencing depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress. Some 91 million days are lost each year due to mental health problems.

The total cost to UK employers is estimated at nearly £26 billion each year, according to the Centre for Mental Health. That is equivalent to £1,035 for every employee in the UK workforce.

There is broad acceptance of the scale of the problem and many employers are willing to make a commitment to provide better support at work. Yet despite this high level of engagement, there is a concern that workplace mental health and wellbeing are getting worse, not better.

In 2016 a survey of almost 20,000 people by Business in the Community (BITC) revealed that 62 per cent of employees with mental health problems said work was a contributing factor, while only 11 per cent felt able to discuss a recent mental health problem with their line manager.

It is no longer an option for an employer to assume that mental health is somebody else’s responsibility

Theresa May, who has described poor mental health support as a “burning injustice”, put wellbeing in the workplace at the centre of the government’s strategy to transform mental health care across society, which was announced in January. She set up a review of employment practice, led by Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, former chairman of HBOS, and Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind. The ambition is to forge a new partnership with employers to improve mental health support in the workplace.

In the UK employers, including Unilever and Anglian Water, have won plaudits for their approach to mental health at work. Unilever, which has 7,500 employees in the UK and Ireland, provides mental health training for all line managers, and encourages senior managers to share their own personal stories of mental problems. The initiative has delivered tangible benefits, the company says, including reducing absence and improving productivity.

Peter Simpson, chief executive of Anglian Water, says: “There is not only a moral urgency to act on mental health, there is also a clear business case for doing so. As well as improved lives for millions more people, it means more productive, competitive and progressive businesses for the long term.

“For businesses to have real impact it requires clear and visible senior leadership. At Anglian Water ultimately the responsibility stops with me and I take an active role to send a clear message that this is how we do business.”

But even the most enlightened employers acknowledge that the scale of the challenge is great. To begin with, many employees still feel uncomfortable engaging with employers about health, be it physical or mental health. It is partly down to stigma, but it is also about people’s wish to maintain boundaries between their work and their private lives. This is particularly true of older employees, as the BITC survey indicated.

Employee support for mental health

The dynamics of the modern workplace are ever-changing and complex. Business must respond quickly to the marketplace and restructuring is constant. Workforces are becoming more fragmented. Full-time employees often work alongside self-employed contractors, staff from outsourced activities and zero-hours casual workers. They have different employment rights and different levels of support at work. The challenge in the workplace is how to reach as many people as possible, not only when they need help, but before mental health problems take hold.

Initiatives to support mental health at work are also frustrated by poor access to care. Even when an employer identifies a concern and offers support, the relationship comes under strain because of inconsistent treatment in the community. Business is concerned that, increasingly, it is being required to provide support that previously was provided by the NHS and social care.

Larger employers are extending private health insurance schemes that include mental health as well as physical health and working with providers of employee assistance programmes to support their workforce. For small and medium-sized enterprises the challenge is to address the issue of mental health within budgets that are under severe competitive pressure.

But it is no longer an option for an employer to assume that mental health is somebody else’s responsibility. It makes good business sense by improving productivity and supporting recruitment and retention. It is also the right thing to do.

The post Taking mental health seriously is good for workers and business appeared first on Raconteur.

 

This article was written by Martin Barrow from Raconteur and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.