Minding the identification trust gap
Identity cards have long been a part of daily life in many countries – if not the UK, whose nascent ID card scheme was canned in 2011 after many years of controversy and hostility over its overly intrusive nature. Yet identity verification today is becoming an increasingly crucial part of our ever-more-digital world – and those involved in it, whether governments or businesses, need to navigate a landscape that has changed beyond recognition, while getting the balance right.
First of all, the ID that takes centre stage in discussions nowadays is digital. Digital identity, however, is not just the digitised version of a formal identity document. In addition to an individual’s personal information (name, date of birth, address) and attribute data (such as a National Insurance number), it can also include biometric identifiers.
Moreover, in the broadest sense of the word, certification data such as university degrees and workplace qualifications can also form part of one’s digital identity, as well as a more dynamic aspect: the trail they leave behind when interacting with financial institutions, mobile network providers or the government.
Digital identity is a thoroughly different proposition from what UK citizens were offered between 2006 and 2011. Back then, the controversial establishment of a central registry, which would contain detailed information on every citizen, was pitted against civil liberties and the argument was lost. But today, a verifiable digital identity today promises speed, convenience and security when getting things done online, so the cost/benefit analysis is – from a position of convenience if not liberty – less one-sided. (The true value of a digital ID was revealed by the pandemic, when many people who’d been made redundant thanks to Covid had to set up accounts remotely.)
In technology we trust (not quite)
But how can an individual prove they are who they claim to be and that their proof of identity is valid without having to show up in a physical branch or governmental office carrying their official documents?
The lynchpin to remote identity verification is the ubiquitous and almighty smartphone. We are increasingly putting our faith in them: we shop and pay, bank and enter into contracts using them. And they do deserve our trust. State-of-the-art smartphones with biometric recognition can identify hard-to-forge fingerprints, faces or, increasingly, our voices.
Ever-more devices are being continually rolled into newer generations of phones. Not only do some have embedded biometric sensors, they also function as NFC readers that can scan chips in our physical passports. They are also able to store the biometric information they collect encrypted in a so-called digital ID wallet independent of the phone’s SIM card.
Rather than just comparing a selfie shot with the mobile’s camera against the picture taken of a photo in an official document – and maybe subjecting the former to “liveness detection” to ensure the picture is of a real person – today’s mobiles can now access the biometric data stored in the document’s chip as too for extra security.
The robustness of the technology is evidenced by the fact that mushrooming national digital ID projects – whether purely mobile-enabled (Estonia, Finland), or card-based with a mobile extension (Germany) – equally rely on it. The match-on-card system, which the Portuguese ID card relies on, for example, circumvents any bans on centralised personal and biometric data repositories by carrying out biometric checks on the card’s microchip, thus avoiding any personal identifiable information leaving the card.
But businesses increasingly find that to stay on top of the catch-up game played with fraudsters, identity biometric comparisons against ID documents are strategically insufficient. Revolut, for example, has teamed up with an identity provider that ensures online identity is validated against external data sources too. An Estonia-type centralised database is an excellent “trust anchor”, but what are the alternatives when it’s not legally viable?
The domestic digital ID-landscape
In the UK, where privacy and data protection have a strong legacy, the government’s Verify scheme was meant to serve as a remote identity verification system for the public and then the private sectors and, eventually, as a global standard. But the public-private partnership, so essential to the success of these national projects, went somehow out of kilter, leading to most of the identity providers involved jumping ship.
Out of the two businesses that have persevered, Dutch Digidentify and the Post Office, the latter seems to have made the most of the ailing project: having teamed up with Yoti, the UK start-up running the d-ID project on Jersey, it can extend its legacy services with cutting-edge offerings such as identity verification and digital signatures. At the same time, it can also address digital exclusion concerns through providing a complementary offline ID service in physical branches.
As Brian Glyck, editor-in-chief of Computerweekly, also suggests, the stumbling block of the failed Verify partnership between government and the business sector has been data access. While identity providers strive for scale and therefore are ready to provide services to both the public and the private sectors, the permission to use data from the Document Checking System (DCS) was granted only to the public sector. (The DCS relies on access to passport office and driving licence data).
To address the issue, the Passport Office is now running a year-long pilot project where – in addition to the Post Office and Digidentify – the 11 participating companies can also “digitally verify users’ identity by referencing the details provided against the HM Passport Office database.”
Another project attempting to bridge the public-private divide is the Trust Framework of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is aiming for developing the digital identity market by certifying and auditing digital identity service providers and their corporate users. Whether these two separate initiatives will eventually converge, or the UK ends up with two separate digital identity ecosystems for business and the public sector, remains to be seen.
One thing, however, is for sure. We will need digital data management solutions that provide robust security against online fraud while limiting government, business and digigtal IDP access to personal data to a minimum. New ID verification methods that reduce the process to yes-or-no questions and answers (confirming, for example, whether a young person is or is not underage rather than checking their actual age) will most probably play a seminal role. And so will the emerging approach of self-sovereign identity (SSI), which puts the online user in control of their digital identities, where who they give access to their private data and for what purposes is entirely their choice.
by Zita Goldman
For the latest updates and insights on digital identity schemes, you can read more on ComputerWeekly.com
To read the latest recommendations of British think-tank Demos regarding the DCMS’s Trust Network, visit https://www.computerweekly.com/opinion/On-digital-identity-the-government-gets-it-wrong-again
We need hard science, not software, to power our post-pandemic recovery
Ten years ago, PayPal founder Peter Thiel condensed the growing sense of disappointment in new technologies down to just nine words. “We wanted flying cars,” he wrote, “instead we got 140 characters”.
That these words still ring true a decade later shows just how far short of expectations new technologies have fallen. To drive growth in a post-pandemic world, we should remember that real economic progress has in the past been driven by hard science – not flashy consumer gadgetry.
But, in contrast to previous industrial revolutions, recent advances in digital technology have not resulted in the expected boost in productivity. Labour productivity growth has been stagnating since the 1970s. In the UK, it’s actually at its slowest rate in 200 years. Stagnating productivity has not gone unnoticed. Having banged the drum of the Fourth Industrial Revolution since 2016, the World Economic Forum has now changed its narrative to the “Great Reset”. No doubt this change reflects new economic realities wrought by the pandemic, but it’s also a silent admission that the 4IR has dramatically under-delivered on its promises of productivity and prosperity.
This happens because software technology, which is subject to large fixed costs but low marginal costs, enables larger firms to develop better-quality products and services than their smaller rivals. That leaves smaller firms facing high obstacles and low benefits when considering the adoption of 4IR technologies. Many elect simply to continue without them.
This means that 4IR technologies are not diffusing fast enough. The gap between the “technology haves and have nots” in the corporate world is widening. A recent study also found that this gap is widening between rich countries and poor countries. When few companies have access to 3D printers, robots, or cutting-edge AI, there are fewer actors to leverage such technologies to the point at which productivity will increase across the board.
It was general-purpose technologies – such as steam engines and the electric dynamo – that powered change in previous industrial revolutions. At present, it remains unclear whether 4IR technologies can do the same.
For example, AI has been of little value against the pandemic, failing to contribute constructively to solving the biggest problem of a generation. 4IR technology is stuck in what research firm Gartner call the “trough of disillusionment” – a state of disappointment we feel when technologies fail to live up to the hype.
This “technology problem” has been well documented. New digital technologies are often found to deliver diminishing returns over time, especially once “low-hanging fruit” have been plucked, leaving only more ambitious, costly, and risky projects up for grabs.
To avoid a technology problem, we need to invest in science that delivers general-purpose technologies, and technologies that deliver real scientific progress. To get there, we’ll need new strategies in research and investment once the pandemic subsides.
For instance, the vast majority of investment in digital technologies is currently driven by venture capitalists out to score quick returns on start-ups that can be scaled fast. As a result, technologies that require more development time – but that are most likely to lead to new breakthroughs – tend to be starved of funds.
This investment trend can leave crucial industries and technologies without the necessary funds to advance and innovate. For instance, venture capital (VC) funding into medical instrument technologies – vital for the continuing fight against pandemics – declined by over 50% between 2003 and 2017. Elsewhere, the VC market for technologies to combat climate change is in a crisis.
With markets allocating insufficient funding to technologies that might help tackle our grand global challenges, controversial arguments are now being made for mission-oriented innovation policies, which would entail an “entrepreneurial state” leading the charge towards key technologies.
Back to the lab
Many doubt this “creationist” view of innovation whereby the state can lead innovation, and argue instead that innovation is a bottom-up process. Whether innovation is creationist or bottom-up, we need to rethink our institutional frameworks for doing science, and start with the role of universities.
According to a growing chorus of commentators, fundamental physics, which delivered virtually all of the technologies underpinning earlier industrial revolutions, has been stagnating for years. This stagnation is now accompanied by a rise in anti-science movements that reject scientific knowledge on climate change, vaccine safety, and even the shape of the earth. At the same time, academic freedom is under threat.
University science has also become encumbered by unhelpful administrative incentives, box-ticking, and “a focus on incremental studies rather than more ambitious projects which are likely to fail, but might lead to more exciting breakthroughs”. Overcoming these obstacles should be a leading priority as we develop post-pandemic research and innovation policies.
How we reset
The Fourth Industrial Revolution never really got off the ground — largely due to human flaws in distribution, investment and research which restricted the diffusion of its technologies and skewed investment into technologies with less meaningful economic impact.
The Great Reset, like the Fourth Industrial Revolution, reads like a Hollywood script. To move beyond headline-grabbing science fiction and glitzy gadgetry, we need a real “back-to-basics” revolution — in the kind of science-plus-risk-taking that delivered economic prosperity in the past. For a start, this will demand more entrepreneurial university research projects that may well fail, but which might break new ground, too.
How content services are helping businesses look to the future
Analyst firm IDC has predicted that by 2025 there will be 175 zettabytes of data in the world. That’s an almost impossible figure to visualise – a mind-boggling volume of data, content and information, that is only going to increase. And while this information is critical to most businesses, few are prepared to effectively manage this increase.
The value of content should certainly not be underestimated. 2020 research from Nuxeo has revealed that more than half of consumers (54 per cent) would switch to a competitor if the digital customer experience did not measure up. This digital experience includes the right product info, personalisation, good product photography and interactive digital media – all key elements of content.
Content is important for all industries, and financial services is a good example of a sector shifting to more digital models that rely on smart and agile use of it. Further Nuxeo research showed that almost three-quarters of insurance customers have requested certificates or supporting documents via digital channels, and there is also a growing demand to digitally share photos, videos and reports relating to claims.
Content in its many and varied forms is already integral to businesses in most sectors. The projected growth in content volume, therefore, will raise important questions about the best way to manage all this content for digital transformation and improving customer experiences.
The difference in business performance between those that are prepared to manage this increased volume and those that do not is vast.
Image provided by Nuxeo
Using content services to increase productivity and reduce costs
There have been technology platforms around for years that help businesses to file, store, manage and get value from the content they hold. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is probably the best-known example. ECM helps firms gain control of their content, automates process workflows, increases productivity, and in doing so reduces costs.
A good ECM platform collates all an organisation’s content in a central repository, providing immediate access to the critical information employees need to make informed decisions. It reduces paperwork, helps improve compliance and becomes essential technology for many firms. Yet as the volume of enterprise content began to grow so sharply, the limitations of traditional ECM were laid bare.
As content became more important, people began to use it differently and content services emerged as a more strategic approach to meet those changing needs. Most productively deployed via a cloud-native platform, content services encompasses a much broader spectrum of technologies. This includes enterprise file synchronisation and sharing (EFSS) tools, content federation, enterprise search, artificial intelligence and machine learning, which all create a powerful proposition – more agile, more contextual, easier to use and delivering far greater value.
Covid-19 and digital transformation
If content is what we use to share information, content services allows us to have a much richer digital representation of content, capture greater detail and context, and work with this information at extreme scale.
This has become more important than ever as the world recovers from a global pandemic. While Covid-19 didn’t create the need for companies to digitally transform, it accelerated trends that were already underway. Many companies were forced to look much closer at their digital customer experiences, and how they shared information and sustained business processes when knowledge workers were no longer in the office. Accessing content services via the cloud, for example, has enabled knowledge workers to manage the content they need, irrespective of their location.
The result has been a renewed focus on digital transformation, delivering better digital experiences and accelerating time to market for new products and services. It’s also about empowering knowledge workers with better information and greater automation to make businesses more efficient and informed.
Content plays a critical role in all these aspects of digital transformation and content services is the key that unlocks the value and potential within that content.
Content services and the future
Content is intrinsic to successful business. Organisations need to find better ways of connecting workers to the content they need to do their job effectively, and consumers to the content they need to consume services or buy products. Content must be at the heart of what smart enterprises are trying to do. They need technology that allows the design, collaboration and capture of rich content, thus enabling new ways to do business, improve the digital customer experience and drive innovation.
This is content services. Without it, enterprises may struggle to find their way in a digital world – with it, they can look to the future with confidence.
Jobs without borders: tapping into the global talent pool
Covid-19 has triggered the world’s biggest remote work experiment, which has subsequently caused a paradigm shift in the nature of work – how it gets done, where it gets done and who gets it done. Society has moved into the era of global remote teams in one of the most sudden, profound social developments in recent history.
Pre-pandemic, companies blindly accepted the notion that location incubates talent, and that you could only perform at the highest level if you showed up at the office every day. But today, companies are looking outside the office, outside the city, even outside the country, tapping into the global talent pool to find the right person for the job.
This new working landscape benefits both the employer and the employee – companies can access the best talent, and candidates have access to great jobs, which in turn elevates local economies around the world.
A corporate epiphany
Let’s be in no doubt, the status quo was doing more harm than good. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report, back in 2017 85 per cent of employees were not engaged at work. However, study after study shows that of those who are engaged and satisfied with their job, there is a high likelihood they work remotely most or all of the time. Indeed, Gallup also reported that those who spend at least 60 to 80 per cent of their time working remotely were more likely to be engaged.
Even before the pandemic, 85 per cent of companies reported an increase in productivity with a remote or flexible work policy. But some feared that with the sudden shift to remote work, overall output would plummet. For many, however, the experience brought about by prolonged and repeated lockdown has created a kind of corporate epiphany and a radical change in opinion on the merits of remote work.
Companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Salesforce and Fujitsu are among many that have made permanent changes to their rules on working from home. And for many thousands of business leaders, instead of their worst fears being realised, new opportunities have opened up as their belief in the merits of remote working converts into action. It seems clear that at the very least, a hybrid culture where remote work is supported by the option of meeting in dedicated or shared spaces will be the preferred option in businesses around the world.
Flexible recruitment offers a win-win
In practical terms, leaders now understand that the talent pool doesn’t just exist within 50 miles of their office building, and that successful recruitment is about getting vital roles filled even when those best qualified for roles simply aren’t available in a commutable radius. This issue is compounded by widespread and growing skills shortages that have forced employers to adopt a global recruitment perspective.
This is a major problem. Recent research revealed that 77 per cent of recruitment professionals cited skills shortages as a top hiring challenge. Talent shortages in their home countries have prompted some companies to look further afield for the talent they need.
In contrast, those organisations focusing on building remote, global teams can expect to see a number of important advantages. For instance, remote working helps build efficiency, while the global perspectives of a diverse team can increase overall business performance. Workers on diverse teams are happier and more engaged, and the employer benefits as a result. According to our own 2020 Global Employee Survey, employees at diverse companies were three times more likely to report feeling happy at work.
Having global team members in-country is critical for any company that hopes to successfully scale at an international level. Local perspectives provide invaluable insights into each target market. Local hires speak the language, understand the norms and customs, and make partners and customers more comfortable.
For employers prepared to invest in building these remote, diverse team cultures, the result is a win-win: they get to address their talent and recruitment challenges, minimise the impact of skill shortages and build stronger, more effective teams. Employees seek out employers and roles that embrace flexibility as part of a modern workplace culture, and in doing so find more engaging and fulfilling work.
Among the many issues that characterise a progressive, modern employer is the awareness of its impact on society, and a willingness to take action to play a positive role. By offering employees the opportunity to work from where they want to be, embracing global remote teams is transformational on a societal level. It leads to a whole range of cultural, financial and social improvements in addition to the positive bottom-line business impact.
These include lowering the cost of living by allowing employees to be based outside of the most expensive cities and suburbs. Many people will also testify to the benefits of partners and parents that no longer have to commute for hours on a daily basis. Key to everyone is the impact of employment on the climate, with fewer journeys helping to reduce emissions.
The world of work is at a crossroads. Organisations that remain convinced that a return to the “old normal” is inevitable and even preferable are at real risk of being left behind. How, for instance, can employers hope to compete for talent by insisting on a daily commute or operate with the implied lack of trust that refusing to allow remote working creates? How can organisations focus their long-term strategy around a single HQ location – and by definition limit where people can live – when their rivals encourage people to live wherever they want? Even for those who prefer to be in the office, an employer with a flexible philosophy is often going to be more attractive.
Instead, those organisations that not only allow remote work but embrace it as a core tenet of their talent acquisition strategy are going to come out on top. Businesses that hire anyone, anywhere are by definition more focused on their strategic objectives because they are removing perhaps the most significant barrier to success: finding the right people.
Nick Adams is Vice President of EMEA at Globalization Partners, based in London, UK, where he leads the company’s international expansion into Europe. With a focus on building a strategic partner network and overseeing regional revenue operations, Nick comes to Globalization Partners with a wealth of experience scaling high-growth businesses and is a firm believer in customer focus, integrity and teamwork, values that the company enshrines across the organisation in everything that it does.
Investing in audio makes business sense
Hybrid working has been tried and tested this year as workers globally migrated home due to Covid-19.
Remote working has proven successful with organisations. They have witnessed first-hand the benefits while providing an opportunity to assess what tech solutions are available to ensure continuity.
Touching base with employees virtually has become central to this. Ensuring effective communication between employees and clients has become a necessity.
Pre-pandemic, 95 per cent of workers experienced daily issues with audio, resulting in end-users losing 29 minutes weekly due to poor quality calls.
As we’ve become more reliant on tech, poor audio has threatened to have a detrimental impact on business productivity and output.
Our new research reveals audio quality has become the new priority for businesses globally, viewing it as a non-negotiable for performance and success.
Decision makers are harnessing collaboration tools to save time and spend, with 45 per cent naming time savings and 41 per cent citing cost savings as two of the most important reasons for using video meetings or calls.
Understanding the power of audio
Now organisations have acclimatised, audio issues should be minor. For them to be a problem of the past, employers must equip their workforce with solutions to work effectively.
Effective call quality delivers better customer service and stronger collaboration. Our research shows that 56 per cent of global decision makers believe high quality audio is essential to their business.
Audio quality is becoming so important that 78 per cent of those surveyed are willing to pay extra for it. This is especially true for those in Sales and Marketing (56 per cent) where it is viewed as integral to maintaining client communication and business performance.
Business leaders must decide which audio solutions will yield greater results and create a digital culture where employees thrive.
Despite this recognition, a clear opportunity for education has emerged – businesses do not have extensive knowledge of the audio solutions accessible to them. Many companies are yet to realise the benefits. It not only enhances performance, but with 35 per cent of respondents previously reporting feeling frustrated or annoyed by bad audio experiences, good quality audio goes a long way to improve employee wellbeing, which has become a key differentiator for job seekers.
Future proofing for 2021
Companies must invest in premium audio solutions – choosing the cheapest, most convenient option does not make business sense in the long run.
Picking progressive tools that have active noise cancellation or artificial intelligence for enhanced voice pickup will help employees feel more connected, which is particularly important in the current climate.
With Generation Z’s representation in the global workforce set to pass 1 billion by 2030, companies also need to understand this demographic’s motivations and ways of working.
Organisations that can offer flexible experiences and well-connected technology solutions will find themselves positioned to attract and retain top talent.
As we plan ahead, one thing is for certain – the future of the workplace will be hybrid, integrating technology with face-to-face meetings. For this to be successful, maintaining a seamless and hassle-free employee experience will be key.
Business leaders are starting to recognise the importance of audio excellence and tools for seamless collaboration, with 95 per cent of decision makers planning to invest over the next few years. To ensure employees get the most out of their workplace, business leaders must act as champions of change and invest in sound solutions that help to dismantle obstacles.
by Jane Craven, Sales Director UK & Ireland, EPOS
Use the predictive power of AI so you know what happens next
Every company wants a competitive edge and greater efficiency, but too many of the tools at your disposal are not delivering results. To identify the right data and cut through the noise you need evidence-based forecasting. Relying on gut feelings is risky. Nothing can compete with data-driven insights informed by human expertise. And for businesses coping with continuing disruption, artificial intelligence (AI) offers unparalleled opportunities to predict customer demand and anticipate emerging market trends.
“AI gives us better predictions at speed in a highly unpredictable environment,” says Kriti Sharma, VP of Product at global data and analytics firm GfK. “It helps us navigate uncertainty going forward and that's an interesting mindset change for many businesses.”
AI decision-making, with models enriched by core company values and access to the most relevant data, will help you build a foundation for future success. Without predictive insights, there’s a real risk that you’re missing out on making the best possible decisions for your business.
Building trust in AI decision making
“If we want to fundamentally transform how businesses make decisions, we need to trust AI,” Sharma explains.
But placing trust in AI is a leap of faith for many organisations requiring courage at board level and culture change throughout the business. It takes careful planning to strike the right balance between AI insights and human expertise.
“It’s not as simple as hiring data scientists to build a model for success. AI decision-making must be grounded in company values,” says Sharma. “We build technology that lives and breathes the values of the business or service it provides.”
Where possible AI systems should be designed around people who can inject industry knowledge and expertise. When organisations are inclusive, the predictive insights they unlock are truly transformative.
Realising the promise of AI insights
AI insights reveal more of the road ahead, so companies can see trends as they emerge and pivot to take advantage. With an accurate picture of their true competition, businesses can hone products and services to better deliver what customers desire. Your deep domain knowledge together with AI that can pinpoint relevant data and patterns is a powerful combination.
“Companies want to know what drives consumers to do certain things,” explains Sharma. “Our clients are making the most important decisions they have to make, where they have the least confidence today based on our analytics and our predictions around consumer behaviours and trends. We are revealing what motivates people to purchase, how these patterns are changing, and how they differ across different parts of the world.”
GfK’s AI technology insights platform, gfknewron, reaches beyond internal expertise to dive deep into purchasing data and market trends that answer important questions about your customers. It reveals their motivations, innovations that genuinely matter to them, what triggers people to buy, and how purchases improve quality of life.
Human-centric AI insights enable companies to drill down to a granular level with specific questions about purchasing decisions. If there’s only one brand of monitor left on the shelf, for example, will people buy now or wait for their favourite brand to come back into stock? Will buyers delay a purchase to get a product in their favourite colour?
With gfknewron, businesses gain access to a continuous stream of rich market intelligence. Relevant insights that cut through the noise help businesses mould sales strategy, meet supply and demand, and identify innovations worth pursuing.
The future of AI in business
AI insights uncover new correlations and hidden connections. Predictive insights reveal that a customer who can’t go on holiday to Greece this year will choose to buy a smart vacuum cleaner instead, for example. Insights help companies look beyond how one camera compares to another to the complete story of a customer’s journey to find the right blend of innovative features, efficiency and price that defines their ideal camera and triggers that purchase.
“We are starting to predict human behaviour and human habits,” explains Sharma. “And combining that with how the markets function, how supply chains function, and how price and promotions factor into consumer decisions enables us to help clients develop winning strategies.”
As partnerships between people and AI evolve, they will push beyond the identification of trends and motivations to anticipate our needs. Forward-thinking companies will harness AI to drive the trends curve rather than react to it.
Watch the full interview to deep dive into the impact of AI on business results.
The impact of the digital economy on business strategies
The digital economy is changing our industry’s ecosystem. In order to guarantee future growth, companies must evolve through digital transformation.
Over the last few years the digital economy and digital transformation have been referenced in the media and are key themes of discussions for companies. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 per cent of global GDP will be digitalised by 2022. However, there is a significant potential of growth since 50 per cent of the world’s population is not currently active in the digital economy. 
Companies willing to respond to these future consumers’ needs while staying competitive must adapt their business processes and strategies by going through a digital transformation.
Definition of digital economy and digital transformation
What do we mean by digital economy and digital transformation? The digital economy defines an economy mainly based on new digital technologies, in order to generate business. Digital transformation covers the process to incorporate digital technology in company business models, which will help to trigger digital economy growth.
Measuring the impact of the digital economy
In order to understand the impact of the digital economy, many organisations have developed tools to help measuring its growth and boost entrepreneurship. For example, since 2014, the OECD has been publishing guidelines and recommendations to boost innovation, entrepreneurship and digital economy growth.
• Action 1: make the digital economy visible in economic statistics
• Action 2: understand the economic impact of digital transformation (labour, capital, knowledge)
• Action 3: encourage measurement of digital transformation’s impact on social goals and people’s wellbeing.
• Action 4: design new and interdisciplinary approaches to data collection
• Action 5: monitor technologies underpinning digital transformation: IOT, blockchain, AI
• Action 6: improve the measurement of data and dataflows
• Action 7: define and measure skills needs for digital transformation
• Action 8: measure trust in online environments
• Action 9: establish impact assessment frameworks for digital government
The World Bank has established a Digital Entrepreneurship Scorecard, a diagnostic tool that helps assess the evolution of the digital market. These recommendations focus on boosting entrepreneurship, promoting innovation, and investing in research .
General Impact on companies’ business strategy
But what does this mean for company leaders, how can they adapt their business strategies to trigger a digital transformation, and how will they know which technologies to adopt? Blockchain, the internet of things and AI are the key technologies highlighted in digital transformation.
According to the OECD, in the UK, AI-related companies are focusing mainly on fields such as deep learning, language processing, image recognition and robotics .
Regarding the adoption of digital transformation, the World Economic Forum emphasised that it is important to identify the triggers, or “enablers”, which come in four categories:
• Data and analytics/systems and technology
• Operating model and partnerships/talent and culture
Once the business strategy has been established, it is crucial to understand the impact of the digital transformation on our industry.
For example, the Bank of England’s Future of Finance report, published in June 2019, clearly shows what banks will need to focus on, in order to “serve the digital economy” . This includes focusing on payment systems, innovation such as AI, big data and machine learning, and on standards and protocols.
What are the key recommendations for business leaders? From a practical side, the following framework can help business leaders to drive this strategic change.
The World Economic Forum suggests asking the questions illustrated below when:
• Establishing the digital strategy
• Defining the business model
• Identifying the enablers for the transformation
• Finally, how to complete through the orchestration phase
In summary, the digital economy, driven by customer requirements and behaviour, is significantly transforming industries. Company business processes and strategies must be able to support this growth, which is estimated in the trillions of dollars. Another aspect which should not be forgotten is to ensure that employees are guided and supported and that the impact of the transformation on company culture is evaluated.
by Nadia Abouayoub FRSA, Strategist, IET Expert Digital Panel member, BCS AI Specialist group Committee Member
Be brave, automate, and turn your minor competences into new profit centres
The underestimated minor competence
While digital transformations are being pushed and implemented, smart entrepreneurs should also consider digitising and optimising areas and activities of their business which correspond to more than just their own core competencies. To give you an idea, let’s start with a specific example: The core competence of grocery retailers is to offer customers a wide range of fresh and non-perishable food products as well as everyday commodities. In order to communicate and promote the products and prices to consumers, the retailers need a large amount of different printed information, such as price tags, many of which change very quickly due to new promotions. If this printing process is digitised and automated, companies can benefit from lower costs in this sector, and consequently from a higher overall profitability.
In addition, think about e-commerce, currently booming amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost every delivery requires a printed delivery note. The package insert for medications, for example. The label that tells us where and how our clothes were produced. Of course, it also directly affects printed materials related to the pandemic – barcode-based packaging of vaccines, banners and signage explaining how a coronavirus testing centre works, or governmental entities providing information and documents to government members and citizens, to name a few. Companies operating in the industries and fields mentioned above certainly don’t have “printing” as a core competence. However, all of them need printed information and/or documents with information in digital form for their daily business. What is the best way to generate them? Ideally in-house through in-plant printing, because in today's fast-paced world who has the time to outsource this step to an external service provider? In addition, there could also be confidential information involved that companies don’t want to risk revealing.
Decision-making processes of government institutions constitute another sector in which a lot of documentation has to be done. In an everyday rapidly changing world, thinking of court proceedings, both external and internal documentation must be done in a very fast manner, such as during the impeachment process for former President Trump. Confidentiality of data is, of course, paramount in these environments and another indicator why outsourcing cannot or should be done only with caution. Producing such documents quickly and confidentially is no problem for The United States Government Publishing Office (GPO), one of the largest in-house printing organisations in the US. Using inkjet and automation technologies, the GPO produces a high volume and wide variety of printed products in a very short time every day.
With in-house printing, this means recurring work steps and processes in the value chain run automatically via software. With an automated workflow, automated file preparation and automated production planning manual operations are eliminated, error rates are lowered, costs are reduced, and efficiency is increased.
But what does this mean for entrepreneurs and their organisations? It means they should be brave enough to let automation take care of the things they don’t specialise in, and let new profit centres emerge.
What do these new profit centres look like, and how do they work? They face current market changes, such as with in-house printing smaller runs in shorter times, more personalisation and use intelligent automated solutions to accomplish them.
Automation does not just happen naturally – you need to set it on its way. Software companies that do their work properly conduct an on-site assessment, gain an overview of goals, product ranges and current production processes, and propose solutions that automate production and make it more economical. This requires the co-operation of the company: the people involved must take the time, usually in addition to their day-to-day business, to determine the actual situation and the target figures, together with the software company. However, this time investment will be rewarded – you will create completely new profits within your company. The world belongs to the brave!
For more information please visit www.onevision.com/10-reasons-for-automation
Internal side gigs: an agile take on talent mobility
Although we may have more optimism with respect to Covid-19 in 2021, organisations are still struggling to manage the business impact of the pandemic’s omnipresent uncertainty.
The way we work has evolved – that much is clear. Some even say it has changed forever.
If there's one thing we learned in 2020, it's that agility holds the key to the future of work. Agility in technology, organisational structure and, most importantly, the workforce.
Agility drives mobility
It has never been more crucial for HR departments to retain and develop talent.
For businesses to prosper in our “new normal”, HR departments must refocus their attention on employee mobility. And yet, in today’s environment, mobility does not refer to the rigid and siloed approaches of years past.
Today, mobility depends on an organisation’s ability to rapidly redeploy talent in the face of economic and market uncertainty. One of the easiest ways for organisations to do this is to focus their mobility efforts on internal project-based sourcing (“side gigs”, for example).
In three simple steps you can upskill your workforce, cut overheads on sourcing activities and implement an agile take on talent mobility.
Step one – build an internal talent marketplace
The first step you need to take when looking to improve talent mobility is to establish a talent marketplace from which to develop talent.
Talent marketplaces act as an internal digital platform where employees can find the growth opportunities most relevant to their goals, skillset and position. Far beyond an internal career site, talent marketplaces represent an important (and AI-driven) evolution with respect to talent management and our collective understanding of career development.
Not only do they position employees to break free from predetermined and rigid vertical career paths, but they allow them to take more responsibility for their ideal professional pathway. Rather than merely shifting employees between departments and teams, talent marketplaces drive organisational agility via skills matching, horizontal mobility and project-based growth opportunities.
Step two – upskill employees with internal “side gigs”
Once you have successfully implemented your internal talent marketplace, the next step is to focus on filling project-based roles with permanent employees.
Project-based sourcing has traditionally resided in the hands of procurement. And yet, as we move away from the notion of linear career paths, applying a “contingent” approach to internal talent will prove invaluable.
Beyond cutting costs, project-based assignments clearly align the interests of both employer and employee in these times of unprecedented furloughs and hiring freezes.
It’s rather easy to imagine a scenario where your organisation has a client training specialist interested in account management. A short-term gig assignment would assist this employee in expanding their core competencies while providing organisations with a much-needed boost of talent agility.
In other words, it's a win-win.
It is only when both procurement and HR have determined that expert knowledge is required and not available internally that you should look to source contingent talent.
Step three – if necessary, directly source your contingent talent
If you determine that the best way forwards with regards to your project-based sourcing is via external talent, a direct sourcing strategy will be key to your success.
Traditional contingent sourcing is a tall task given the financial realities of these trying times. In the pursuit of sourcing sustainability, organisations are increasingly building their own contingent talent networks. By cutting out the middleman, organisations can save money and directly engage with the market’s best contingent talent through a branded and digital solution.
Similar to talent marketplaces for your internal workforce, contingent talent networks provide external talent with a greater degree of control over their professional development. All applicants enjoy a modern “candidate” experience, with the best of the best being encouraged to return in the future and apply for open projects.
If properly implemented, organisations should expect to improve time to fill, streamline admin contingent tasks and significantly reduce their overhead for contingent sourcing.
Connecting the agility dots
As we move forward into this new year, organisations must strive for greater harmony between their internal and external sourcing activities. One of the best strategies for developing this harmony is to implement a holistic approach to mobility – one driven by agility.
Take an honest assessment of your organisation. If internal side gigs, talent marketplaces and non-linear upskilling remain nothing but a pipe dream, the time is now to bring in the technology, people and processes necessary to achieve HR success in what will eventually be our post-pandemic future.
To find out more about how you can leverage the power of an internal talent marketplace visit www.avature.net
by Ernie Kueffner, SVP Americas, Avature
Building a more resilient business with finance and accounting
Almost overnight, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic became the single greatest threat to global business continuity in living memory. One year later, the future remains uncertain. The ongoing impact of the pandemic has resulted in increased pressure to maintain profitability and retain market share, and it is clear that business leaders are operating in a more demanding and unpredictable environment than ever before.
At a time when strategic decisions must be made fast – often to solve challenges that have no precedent – agility and access to data is critical. Financial data often lies at the very heart of these decisions. But to what extent have business leaders acknowledged the crucial role finance and accounting (F&A) can play in business survival and, ultimately, recovery?
To answer this question, BlackLine conducted a survey of 1,300 finance professionals and C-level executives in seven markets. Unsurprisingly, we found that many respondents feel they are now under more pressure than before the pandemic – either because of a lack of resources or because the scope of what they are expected to do is changing.
Increasing pressure from the board
A third (33 per cent) of global respondents say the pandemic has increased pressure on F&A to provide an accurate picture of company performance. In particular, pressure is mounting on those at the top, with a quarter (26 per cent) agreeing that CFOs are facing more pressure from boards as a result of the pandemic.
However, businesses are beginning to recognise how real-time access to financial data can help them react quickly to volatile market changes. In fact, our research shows that financial forecasting, stress-testing and analysis have moved up the corporate agenda in the last year. Nearly half (43 per cent) of respondents say their organisation has become more focused on scenario planning and stress-testing as a result of the pandemic. And four in 10 (40 per cent) say finance departments are increasingly being called upon by boards to help.
Despite this, nearly a third (32 per cent) of respondents say the finance function is not currently involved in scenario planning at all at their organisation. More concerning still, over a quarter (27 per cent) of C-suite members say they have no visibility over scenario planning, suggesting some business leaders could be making business-critical decisions based on inaccurate or out-of-date information.
Forecasting and analysis is only as good as your data
Close to a third (30 per cent) of respondents admit that their organisation simply doesn’t have the technology to properly analyse financial data in real time, making scenario planning more challenging. The fact that so many businesses still lack tools that provide proper visibility and control over financial data seems to be fuelling a wider and more insidious problem: the diminishing trust that senior executives and F&A professionals have in the accuracy of their own organisation’s data.
Overall, less than half (43 per cent) of respondents say they have complete trust in the accuracy of their company's financial data, and a quarter also say they are not confident that all the data they use to make financial forecasts is accurate.
When respondents who did not completely trust the accuracy of the financial data were asked why, the main reason (cited by 37 per cent of respondents) was their continued reliance on clunky spreadsheets and outdated processes that leave F&A teams in the dark until the end of the month. Comparing this with a survey conducted with the same audience in 2018, more people felt this was a problem now than two years ago, suggesting that digital transformation initiatives in F&A still have a long way to go.
Digital transformation: a renewed urgency
The good news is that the pandemic has created a renewed urgency around digital transformation and investment in technology. Close to a third (32 per cent) say developments over the last year have made people at their company value real-time access to financial data more. Four in 10 (40 per cent) want to improve financial planning, analysis, budgeting and forecasting through automation in the next 12 months. And a third (34 per cent) say that investing in their company’s data analytics capabilities this year will help their organisation retain a competitive edge.
There is no doubt that the velocity of change created by the pandemic will continue to impact businesses and our lives for some time to come. As businesses continue to adapt, finance and accounting is in a unique position to be a catalyst for change. F&A has the opportunity to lead the charge when it comes to being more analytical and data-driven – an approach that could be the difference between success and failure as we move from crisis mode and into recovery.
To read BlackLine’s study into how the global pandemic is reshaping roles and building resilience in F&A, visit: blackline.com/covid-F&A-survey
by Marc Huffman, CEO of accounting automation software provider, BlackLine
Getting your remote employees cyber-secure at home
How quickly times can change. At the beginning of the year, home working was something that many people had heard about, but relatively few had practised. Now it has become routine for the majority and, interestingly, many organisations have found that it has worked surprisingly well.
One of the key enablers, of course, has been the increased availability of IT devices and broader internet connectivity. In fact, the collective investment in technology and infrastructure over the past few years has enabled a relatively smooth transition to remote working. That said, the need for security and protection has never been greater, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it did not take long for certain vulnerabilities to show. This year saw an increase in worldwide phishing threats and other cyber-attacks from nefarious actors seeking to take advantage of the pandemic. At the height of the global lockdown period, it was reported that more than 100 million phishing emails were being blocked every day, with a fifth of those being scam emails related to coronavirus.
The truth is, working from home doesn’t always have to pose such a grave cyber-security risk. It can be a secure, seamless transition from office-based work if organisations are fully prepared for it. The question is whether they have actively done so, or simply assumed that staff already use technology at home, and know how to protect themselves.
While there are plenty of opportunities for people to be protected and improve their IT security awareness, this may not translate so well into practice. Being threat-aware is not the same as being cyber-security literate. In other words, identifying a threat does not necessarily mean that someone knows how to handle it or provide a resolution. Similarly, the fact that safeguards are available does not mean they will always be used effectively. Too often, people handle security badly by default, such as choosing weak passwords or failing to install important updates. The guidance is out there if we look for it, but it's questionable whether staff are actively supported or encouraged to do so.
A good insight into the preparedness of organisations comes from the latest Cyber Security Breaches Survey from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). Though published at the beginning of the lockdown in late March, the fieldwork for the survey was conducted at the end of 2019. As such, it provides true insight into the measures that organisations had taken as standard, and how they were positioned ahead of the pandemic.
The survey explores the extent to which organisations have addressed the recommendations in the National Cyber Security Centre’s 10 Steps to Cyber Security. These span a variety of technical and organisational measures, but in terms of readiness to switch to remote working, the most interesting steps are those relating to “user education and awareness”, and “home and mobile working”. The former relates to the percentage of businesses that have user-facing policies on acceptable and secure use of systems, while the latter refers to having established clear policies on working outside of the workplace. In both cases, one would hope that organisations already promoted policies and awareness. However, in the vast majority of cases, most organisations do not cover the steps in the first place. The 2020 results suggest that just a third have addressed user education and awareness and only a quarter cover home and mobile working. Based on these findings, it seems rather unlikely that staff will have been fully prepared for the shift to remote working.
In some cases, working from home can lead to complacency as staff are more inclined to be vigilant when operating in work environment. Now in the comfort of their homes, some may feel more relaxed and less likely to focus on the cyber-security policies of the workplace. In fact, many people may be working remotely on their own devices, therefore, there is no guarantee that they will have configured them appropriately or installed the necessary security software. Conversely, if staff are using work devices, they need to be able adhere to security policies and be clear on the bounds of permitted use. In the future, businesses must make specific provision for the cyber-security of home workers, if they are to minimise any potential threats or vulnerabilities.
With remote working proving successful for many, we may see a situation where businesses explore increasingly flexible work options in the future. While some may have learned from recent experience, if remote working is to continue in a meaningful way, there needs to be greater awareness of the cyber security measures that support it. Home workers must be fully prepared, in terms of the technology used to protect devices and the knowledge and skills to better protect themselves.
Steven Furnell is a Professor of Cyber Security in the School of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham. His research interests include the usability of security technology, security management and culture, cyber-crime and abuse, and technologies for user authentication and intrusion detection. He has authored more than 330 papers in refereed international journals and conference proceedings, as well as books, including Cybercrime: Vandalising the Information Society and Computer Insecurity: Risking the System.
Professor Furnell is also the Chair of Technical Committee 11 (security and privacy) within the International Federation for Information Processing, and a board member of the Chartered Institute of Information Security.
To find out more on the topic of home working and cyber-security, please click here.
For the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s (DCMS) full Cyber Security Breaches Survey, please click here.
The best digital product is the one people buy
This is the decade of the digital product. Right now, there are more than 11,000 software companies around the world, employing over 20 million software developers, and bringing in revenues of more than $100 billion.
How can software and technology companies drive growth in this competitive market? By prioritising customer-focused product design. The “best” products aren’t the ones with the most features or the most advanced technology; they’re the ones people are adopting and using over and over again. The best way to get potential customers to use a digital product is to design for what they need and want – and make it easy to use.
Too many companies build technology for technology’s own sake, without a real understanding of the product’s purpose or value. However, considering the end-user experience – why the customer is using the product in the first place – and designing that as part of the development process will ensure a more successful product. Instead of approaching product design as a closed-end task, companies should integrate the expertise of designers, engineers, marketers, and UX professionals in collaboration with each other throughout the entire development process.
One area ripe for this kind of change in 2021 is cyber-security. The cyber-security market is expected to grow by 10 per cent in the next seven years to $326 billion. What is concerning is that most cyber-security companies are still advertising what their products can do, instead of how their products will be used and the outcomes they will provide. “Cyber-confusion” remains a major problem in the industry, with products delivering more advanced security solutions than ever, but which are increasingly difficult to use.
Customers expect the same easy-to-use experience from any software product as they would their iPhones – including their cyber-security products. One of the reasons for the iPhone’s continued success has been its customer-centric design. Why are technology products becoming more and more complicated to use when they should in fact be simpler? As companies compete to create secure connections for the new remote workforce, user-friendly product design is more important than ever.
In an economy fueled by software and data, companies should be thinking differently about how they build their digital products. To learn more about customer-centric product design, download your complimentary copy of the Amazon bestseller, The Product Mindset: Succeed in the Digital Economy by Changing the Way Your Organization Thinks.
by Kim Mirazimi, Vice President, Technology, 3Pillar Global
Turn employees and business customers into advocates with an exceptional support experience
Exceptional support experiences drive both customer and employee advocacy.
The support expectations of your customers and employees continue to rise based on their experiences in the broader consumer world. IT enterprise and product support organisations are facing increased pressure to meet these expectations across the entire spectrum of IT service delivery and support activities, which demands a customer-oriented approach. The support experience you provide becomes just as important as the resolution to the problem. Great support experiences turn satisfied employees and customers into advocates, which in turn helps you retain your companies two greatest assets, your customers and the employees that support them.
Shifting to a customer-oriented approach first requires understanding that your employees are often your most important customer. Being employee-centric is a prerequisite to becoming a customer-oriented organisation. After all, how can you take care of your customers if you can’t first take care of the employees supporting them? The good news is that many of the support solutions designed to improve the customer experience can also be turned inward to improve the employee experience, as the two go hand in hand.
How can Sutherland help?
With more than 30 years of domain experience, combined with our in-house platform teams and strong technology partnerships with companies such as ServiceNow and Zendesk, Sutherland offers a unique value proposition. Avoiding the typical one-size-fits-all approach, we focus on tailored solutions that match the right methodology and delivery strategy to meet short- and long-term business goals.
Sutherland delivers IT, employee, and customer workflows that matter. We help organisations of all sizes tap into the full transformative power of these platforms by ensuring that the solutions delivered are relevant, solve your business problems and align with desired business outcomes.
We partner with you to simplify the complexity of work into digital workflows and automate business processes so operational efficiency and support experience is improved for both the employee and customer.
Whether you need quick time-to-value with managed services, or a more robust solution optimising your organisation, tools and processes, Sutherland is committed to be your partner of choice.
The Sutherland advantage
At Sutherland's, we believe that differentiation and unique value are based on results. Process transformation is embedded in Sutherland's DNA and permeates our Enterprise Business Service practice. Our service delivery expertise, industry-specific subject matter experts, platform teams and technology partnerships enable us to deliver scalable solutions.
Global service delivery footprint: With 84 locations in 20 countries, Sutherland provides cost-effective support services in more than 40 languages, with 24/7 follow-the-sun support capabilities.
Sutherland next-gen managed services platforms: Sutherland offers a variety of platforms that deliver feature-rich, managed services that reduce operational costs and improve the user experience.
Technology Partnerships: Sutherland is a Premier partner and MSP with ServiceNow and a ZenDesk authorised partner. By leveraging our technology partnerships, we bring a best-fit service management platform to the solution that matches your business requirements and budget. If you are already invested in one of these tools, we can help you maximise that investment with a full suite of professional services.
Sutherland Labs: At our design thinking labs, we transform everyday business interactions into delightful customer experiences by designing processes around the needs of customers, employees, and other stakeholders. We create smarter experiences by understanding human needs and translating them to business requirements, while facilitating process transformation by designing a seamless end-to-end experience.
For more information on how we can help you transform your employee and customer support experience, see www.sutherlandglobal.com
Fashion retailer Primark is refusing to sell online – here's why it is right to do so
Irish fast-fashion retailer Primark has no plans to sell its clothes online. This is despite the company warning that lockdown store closures could cost it losses of more than £1 billion. The retailer has shut 305 of its 389 global stores – including 190 in the UK. Primark has just announced a 30% sales fall to £2 billion in the 16 weeks leading to January 2, adding that this loss could mean price rises.
While the retail giant has no online store to fall back on, the likes of online-only fashion retailers Asos and Boohoo, saw sales rise by 40% in the last four months of 2020. In fact, the Office for National Statistics says that online retail sales increased to 31.4% last November, compared with 28.6% reported in October - so it’s clearly unusual for Primark not to have a digital presence for shoppers.
Because Primark is one of the few high street fashion retailers without an online store, many of its customers have called for the business to adapt to the digital era and change this. But the store’s directors have no intention of doing so, citing the high costs of running an online business and the associated customer returns as the main reasons.
We have researched the growth of “buy online, return in store” and the true cost of returns. Our view is that Primark is right to be extremely cautious, as online shopping is designed to favour “time-poor but cash-rich” customers, not necessarily retailers. It’s a good example of how an online offering is not always the right option for retailers – and as we shall see, there are implications for social justice.
The problem with product returns
A good returns policy can attract customers and increase sales, but high rates of returns can wipe out any profits for a retailer. The average rate of returns is 8% for store sales but around 25% for online sales, rising to between 30% and 70% in the fashion world.
A recent report by the UK’s online retail association, IMRG, indicates that 31% of retailers found that managing online returns had a definite impact on profits. Some 33% reported increasing prices to cover the cost of returns.
In 2019, retailers had started to revise their policies and practices to combat these rates of return. In some cases, savings were made by simply enforcing the returns policy that they already had in place.
However, COVID-19 has negated most of this success. With stores closed, returns are coming through more expensive channels like post, courier and third-party collection points. There has also been an increase in fraud-related returns. The cost of these offset any gains from increased online sales.
If Primark were to launch an online store, Brexit would mean that it would need to decide whether to establish two separate returns distribution stores in Ireland and the UK. Running all returns through a single warehouse would generate additional paperwork around export classifications and increase transaction costs. But ultimately both solutions would be expensive and complicated due to import/export and VAT regulations.
Learning from rivals
In contrast, British clothing retailer Next has been successful online, though this not always straightforward. It began its directory business in 1988, shortly after opening its first stores, and then went online in 1999.
In 2018, Next had to make an accounting adjustment when it realised that the staffing and management cost of handling “click and collect” orders in-store was £0.89 per parcel and not the £0.57 previously assumed. With Primark selling clothes at lower prices than Next, it would likely not make a profit at all with click and collect.
Next’s online operation faces other challenges. In 2020, it said it would cost £12 million over two and a half years to modernise its website, which it described as “increasingly complex, unwieldy and expensive”. Additionally, the company reworked its distribution and inventory processes to turn around online orders more quickly.
We found that some retailers also face a problem of integrating their store and e-commerce channels. It is a major task to remodel the entire company IT infrastructure to accommodate the online business, and most settle for “bolt-ons”. Consequently, several of the businesses we studied used data from different systems to track refunds, returns and lost items. This is an issue Primark will have considered. And unlike Next, it had a poor experience of selling outside of the stores when it trialled selling through online retailer Asos a few years ago.
The implications of selling online
There is a perception that setting up and running a website should be easy. However, even small e-commerce owners quickly find that being online is not just a nice-to-have addition to their business.
To sell online, businesses need a gripping website with quality pictures. Returns usually occur when the item fails to match its online image or the information provided is incomplete or inaccurate. Additionally, the website needs a “back end” with very high functionality that links into inventory, logistics, customer accounts and finance systems.
Before you even start selling, that’s a lot of investment in design, photography, programming and testing. Then there are ongoing costs of maintenance, support, daily marketing and “click bait”. Online chat, call centres and customer support all need to be staffed, in addition to the warehouse operations dealing with online orders.
Most retailers find themselves setting up separate distribution warehouses to handle their online goods. Most major retailers have also set up separate distribution centres just to deal with returns. We found that accepting returns in store is the most cost-effective route.
But either way, there are still additional costs: even if there are no returns at all on a line or item, there is still a cost in maintaining the system just in case there is a return. This means that for items under a certain price, the handling costs are more than the income from reselling the item – a problem for low price propositions like Primark. Using our model, the cost of returns on a £5.00 item can be around £6.50.
Online shopping offers advantages for cash-rich, time-poor customers, whereas the time-rich, cash-poor often rely on stores like Primark. This raises the uncomfortable question of whether online shopping might be another sign of inequality in society – benefiting those with access to credit and IT, and who can afford to pay enough to cover the hidden costs of returns.
How CIOs can take the lead on delivering a world-class digital customer experience
According to Gartner, more than two-thirds of companies compete mostly on the basis of customer experience. If a company offers its customers a mediocre experience, switching to the products or services of competitors is only a few clicks away.
While most CIOs were already acutely aware of this, 2020 has put additional pressure on them to deliver on their companies’ digital CX ambitions. According to the 2020 Harvey Nash – KPMG CIO Survey, customer engagement ranks alongside operational efficiency at the top of the list of priorities, as was the case in 2019. But Covid-19 has changed the purpose of what customer engagement means, with the development of new channels to market with and the creation of more and better digital experiences for customers emerging as critical.
However, being able to fulfil their company’s needs for innovation and their customers’ ever-increasing expectations means overcoming a number of hurdles confronting most CIOs intent on realizing their digital CX transformation mission.
The first is resources. IT organisations were already buried under huge backlogs, struggling to hire sufficiently qualified staff. IT still spends far too much time and energy just keeping the lights on (KTLO) with existing systems. In a recent survey of CIOs, IT leaders, and financial decision-makers, 77 per cent believed that this was a major hurdle for their organisation.
But these resource constraints exist at a time when the demands from businesses to launch new, innovative digital products to serve customers are greater than ever. In fact, most of the industry reports suggest that the majority of consumers who turned – some for the first time – to digital channels when branches were closed and call centres overwhelmed will continue to do so even after business as usual resumes.
This means that creating, maintaining, extending, and even rebuilding customer-facing applications at speed is now critical for any company that wants to thrive in 2021 and beyond.
CIOs are under intense pressure to do more with less – and more quickly – than ever before.
What does great digital CX mean?
There is also a fundamental issue at play here, related to the understanding of what a great digital CX really consists of.
It might be tempting to think that a great user experience is synonymous with a great customer experience, and while that might have been the case in the first days of digital disruption, it is no longer true. Irrefutably, a user-friendly UX/UI that is beautifully designed and boasts lightning-fast performance does have a big positive impact on customer satisfaction. But great digital CX goes far beyond that:
Great digital CX doesn’t live in a vacuum
As this list makes clear, great digital CX spans the entire waterfront of enterprise development and does not simply refer to creating new customer applications that look and behave well.
To deliver great CX, you have to address multiple areas of digital transformation. You have to automate and optimise the communication and orchestration of workflows spanning multiple services and systems, creating front-office and back-office applications that employees can use easily to respond to customer requests quickly. And you need to easily connect to, extend and even fully modernise aging systems that might not be delivering the business functionality you need to deliver a great experience on your customer applications.
The problem is that, typically, software vendors concentrate on only one of the four areas listed above: as a result, off-the-shelf software that approaches complex and inter-related problems on a standalone basis invariably requires complex integrations and extensive workarounds that hamper the delivery of good CX rather than enhance it – and do nothing to reduce the workload on the IT department. Traditional development, on the other hand, means companies take months or even years to build everything they need to achieve their ideal digital CX.
Becoming a truly customer-centric organisation – the dream state envisaged by all CIOs – requires the breaking down of technology silos and the dramatic acceleration of the speed of development – but these old approaches put them further from ever getting to the place where they can be the key drivers of their company’s digital CX transformation.
A new approach to digital CX
The time is right for a modern application platform that tackles the complex challenges of CX transformation at its root, rather than treating the symptoms individually. A platform that unifies and simplifies omnichannel development, so you can create new customer apps for any channel using a single platform and development team, moving much faster than traditional development without compromising on flexibility and quality. One that delivers consistent, omnichannel customer journeys by easily allowing the reuse of application components across your entire application portfolio. One you can use to streamline and automate the processes that support your customer journeys. A platform that can connect to and extend any system, while allowing you to modernise your legacy systems in months instead of years. All of this can enable you to create enterprise-grade applications fast, that are built for change.
Only then will CIOs be able to close – perhaps even eliminate – the gap between what the business is asking of them and what they are realistically able to deliver.
To learn more about key trends and strategies, identified by Forrester Research, for digital CX and customer self-service in 2021 and beyond, check out this webinar with OutSystems and guest speaker, Nigel Fenwick, Forrester VP & Principal Analyst, as we discuss his research in digital business in the age of customer experience.
How advancement of tech is forcing companies to get the jump on hiring top talent
If 2020 taught us anything, it was to expect and respond to change at a pace previously thought to be impossible. In the span of weeks, companies were forced to rethink their entire digital operating model and shift strategy, resources and priorities overnight. As companies leaned into their use of technology as a primary form of customer interaction, the ways they built and deployed technology products also shifted, creating ripples across the broader US staffing market.
At the height of the pandemic, temporary help services jobs declined by over 30 per cent annually1, while solutions firms such as Kforce declined by less than 1 per cent annually in IT staffing2, displaying an ongoing, steady demand for tech professionals in the US.
Heading into 2021, companies are striving for accelerated deployment of digital capabilities, capturing new and increased data created by those digital interactions, while reimaging how those capabilities are built and deployed in a remote environment. These trends are important to understand as organisations increasingly look for external partners such as Kforce to assist them with their digital journey.
How companies are going digital
Prior to March 2020, some business leaders were down the path of planning digital transformations within their companies, giving them a head start on what became the race of the century – to keep up with the pace of technology accelerating by 12 years in just 12 months. Others not so much. Many quickly realised that technology was no longer a luxury but a necessity, with 87 per cent of senior business leaders making digitalisation a priority, according to Gartner3.
With human-to-human interaction vastly reduced, technology became the primary conduit for companies to interact with customers and remove friction between customer and product. Those not already committed to digital needed to pivot and quickly re-engineer their world, reallocating funds to accelerate their company’s digital transformation to survive. With more than a third of 2021 tech budget increases influenced by COVID-194, that easily led to a tech talent shortage in an already constrained environment. By the end of 2020, more than 200,000 IT jobs were posted online in the US, proof that companies are deploying new capabilities across all industries5. Limits on immigrations also exhaserbated an already tight IT labor market.
Typically, employers partner with companies such as Kforce to place individual tech workers to supplement their existing teams. As the pandemic unfolded, it became clear that significant gaps existed in a company’s ability to execute projects or hire the talent needed to build new digital capabilities. In response, Kforce offers advanced technology solutions to these customers by building and deploying teams with embedded leadership, while providing clients time back to address the unfolding crisis. This efficient deployment of talent as a group – to, for example, build a mobile app – can’t use traditional staffing methods, but instead requires cohesive teams of talent to get from idea to production.
Data-driven business strategies
One result of this “digitalisation at scale and velocity” is massive skill shifts. The shift in skill needs was already a challenge, but more than 58 per cent of workforces report skill transformations since the onset of the pandemic6, with some more specialised roles becoming increasingly valuable. The digital-first interaction gave companies new data points to align their customer journey. It presents companies with the chance to glean new insights from this new volume of data.
More than three quarters (76 per cent) of businesses plan to increase spending over the next two years on data analytic capabilities, increasing needs within fields requiring analysis and feedback7. For example, data scientists and Python™ developers saw an increase in demand in late 2020, suggesting that companies may be angling toward a renewed focus on the data analytics and software building so crucial to overall business strategy8.
The urban exodus
Amid spiking cases and vaccine rollouts, one aspect of this new normal remains a reality – the more companies focus on technology, the less people are needed in office. More professionals are working remotely than ever before and that percentage is expected to double in 20219, as productivity has increased during the pandemic, according to a survey.
Kforce’s clients are seeing that effeciency, most notably among tech professionals.
Major metropolitan areas such as New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles saw a high percentage of outbound moves throughout the pandemic10. This culture change has allowed companies to reimagine how their work gets done from an internal and external talent perspective. Now only being bound by internet connection and time zone, companies can access broader talent markets previously out of reach, also allowing employees to reimagine their work-life integration. Companies that are early adopters of the remote labour pool have and will continue to keep a healthy advantage over their competition for highly skilled resources.
In this evolving, boundaryless environment, Kforce’s national presence, supported by local expertise, is proving to be a key differentiator in providing clients access to the best possible talent for these high-demand skillsets regardless of where talent resides.
If you are struggling to deploy projects or gain insights from your data in this demanding environment, there are two things in my opinion that can best position your company to thrive in this new normal: understand what you are offering talent-wise when compared with other companies and how you are articulating that in the marketplace. Then, work with internal teams to streamline your hiring processes before recruiting. Speed is key in this environment: the faster you can onboard, the greater the advantage you have in securing top talent.
For more information on Kforce, visit Kforce.com.
Joseph Liberatore serves as Kforce's President. He joined Kforce in 1988 and acted as president of Kforce Interactive and as Chief Financial Officer before being named President in 2012. As president of the interactive division, Mr. Liberatore was tasked with leading the transformation of the Kforce business model by blending and leveraging the competitive advantages of traditional staffing methodologies and emerging web-based technologies.
Pioneering the digital revolution, one classroom at a time
There’s no denying it: the future is digital, and disruptive technologies are arriving at an unprecedented speed. The digital revolution has given rise to new business models that are reshaping entire industries, and transforming the way we communicate, do business and learn.
If we want to prepare the young professionals of tomorrow for this digital era, there’s no better place to start than with education. After all, today’s students are already primed: they scroll, click and swipe their way through the day, acquiring and processing information faster than ever before. It’s about time that universities keep pace. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the need is undeniable: Covid-19 has created an extraordinary opportunity to accelerate digitalisation and create a new learning environment that is a better fit for today’s student.
The benefits of digitalisation in education are endless
For students, digitalisation delivers a more realistic learning environment that is more engaging and interactive, promoting higher levels of communication, teamwork, critical thinking and real-world involvement.
Virtual education allows teachers to stay connected with their students at all times, opening learning opportunities for those who might have trouble attending school. It also improves information accessibility, and helps teachers offer a more tailored learning experience that reflects the needs of each student, including those with learning disabilities.
Technology in the classroom plays a critical role in priming future generations on how to thrive in a digital economy. It allows them to learn, hands-on, how technology works and how technology can be leveraged in their future business. It opens a world of new learning opportunities that would be otherwise hard to replicate in the classroom, including virtual tours, virtual reality simulations and demonstrations of abstract concepts.
For education institutions, investing in digitalisation is invaluable – if done correctly. Digitalisation is shaking up every industry, and education is no exception. Those who want to retain their position as leaders in education will need to rethink the entire learning experience so as to deliver on students’ ever-evolving education needs. Those that do will see improvements in overall education quality, staff and student engagement and reap the financial rewards of delivering a more agile, streamlined way of working.
But digital education calls for more than simply making key resources and videos available online; it’s about innovating and transforming the way we teach students, by using digital environments to enhance and complement learning. This doesn’t mean we have to start from scratch – techniques that have worked for over a century are still relevant, they simply need to be complemented with hi-tech capabilities. The best of the old education world combined with the best of the new world is a powerful pairing.
Case study: EHL’s digitalisation journey
The Swiss education system continues to show its position as a leader on an international scale when it comes to digital education.
At the forefront of the digital education revolution lies the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). EHL has capitalised on the tremendous impact that technology can have for students through the adoption of remote and digital education. EHL also continually seeks to create innovative new learning experiences through the adoption of new technologies (such as gamification and virtual reality) in the classroom and push the boundaries of learning as we know it.
Though its digital transformation journey has only just begun, EHL has already seen the benefits – through enhanced student engagement, increased motivation among faculty and greater operational efficiencies. By scaling these digital initiatives even further, EHL aims to further capitalise on its investments, and deliver motivated, curious and entrepreneurial young professionals to the workforce of tomorrow.
EHL is proud to maintain its heritage as a pioneer, innovator and leader in education.
Need help with your digital transformation? Our experts can help you with the key stages, resources and people required to succeed.
by Maxime Medina, COO and Deputy CEO, EHL Group
Talent exodus: a perfect storm for employers?
The global pandemic has struck organisations across all industries with unprecedented challenges, and there are signs that as the waters calm, a new talent threat is appearing on the horizon. Having navigated the myriad of market and operational challenges, corporations are now bracing themselves for a battle to retain their business-critical talent at a time when they are going to depend upon it most.
An approaching storm
Assessing and managing the impact of the global pandemic on near-term performance and productivity is old hat, and most organisations are now firmly fixing their analysis on how to exit restrictions and compete in the “new normal”.
A principal challenge identified by many is how to engage and retain critical talent members as markets and opportunities begin to open. Sentiment in the candidate market indicates that the “work from home” structure has heightened individuals’ sense of mobility, while simultaneously eroding the meaningful bonds firms have previously relied on to keep their key employees. Businesses should be very concerned about this threat and should take action to mitigate the risks of an exodus of their key people.
This begs the question, what is the catalyst of the threat and why is it happening? Feedback taken by Phaidon International from its global network of business-critical candidates has unearthed a significant level of clarity and a growing appetite for candidates to explore new opportunities. Overall, candidates increasingly report that the enforced “work from home” period resulted in feeling less engaged with their current employer and consequentially more open to switching companies.
Some frequently cited contributing factors were a lack of perceived investment in their development, lack of social cohesion in their teams, less frequent physical interaction, and primarily vocational “ad hoc banter” that virtual platforms are limited to create.
This perfect storm of heightened push factors and abundance of emotive pull factors of competitors looking to target talent indicates that contented and stable individuals are now at risk of moving on.
Battening down the hatches
By implementing strategic plans and accelerating long-lasting change, enterprise leaders can mitigate a talent exodus post-pandemic. Forward-facing organisations are beginning to incite action and engage with talent through top innovative practices.
Successful firms, who go beyond MS Teams and embrace immersive technology, are cultivating strong networks and developing interpersonal relationships which is vital within the workforce. With longer-term incentivisation, pioneering businesses are also starting to align with corporate and individual motivations through CSR activity and a cultural reinforcement strategy.
Flexibility is a necessity with regard to existing employees, particularly with a focus on outputs over inputs. One size certainly does not fit all: business leaders and management teams should look beyond the “work from home” narrative to demonstrate how they value high-calibre employees and cater to their specific needs.
For some employees, remote working has blurred the distinction between personal and professional life; a structure which may be deemed simply intolerable. For others, the work-life dynamic is highly desirable and opens up a plethora of different opportunities, such as spending less time commuting and more time enhancing productivity and harnessing a unique skillset.
Ultimately, business leaders must nurture their workforce and begin to facilitate the development of new skills and opportunities to avoid talent jumping ship and seeking a career in other places. Forward-thinking firms are investing in people, articulating development plans, maintaining team cohesion and continuing to drive culture – albeit through a virtual communications strategy – to mitigate talent exodus problems.
Preparing for all weathers
In order to manage the risk of a talent exodus after the pandemic, organisations need to be proactive around engaging and retaining critical talent. Employers should act now to plan for the long term and ease potential talent pressures. By implementing a talent success strategy, organisations can coherently communicate a meaningful goal that adheres to workers, and remain the employer of choice.
But there is also a need to go beyond engaging with the existing workforce. Managing the risk of a major exodus post-pandemic requires contingency plans to be put in place. It is deeply important that organisations understand the talent market; when to bring in new prospective talent and to be knowledgeable on what would motivate an attractive candidate to move. Ideal candidates may not be actively looking to move but with the right partner who has eyes and ears in the talent market, it is possible to identify the people who would best fill any potential vacancies.
Calmer waters after the pandemic
Universal optimism exists around the return to growth expected from the post-pandemic period. Subsequently, competition will be as fierce and intense as it has ever been. The ability of firms to retain and inspire key staff will have a strong impact on their ability to thrive, but it will be equally critical to attract a wave of new talent. Inevitably, competition for the key hires will be intense; candidate sentiment indicates the right engagement strategy will be as instrumental in gaining talent as it will be in keeping it.
When we come out of choppy waters and challenging market conditions, opportunity exists. It is clear that for firms to succeed in achieving their goals, they first need to succeed with their talent strategy. There is little doubt that as the world continues to emerge from the constraints of the pandemic, the need to mitigate and manage risks around an exodus of critical talent is a key priority. Some firms will weather the storm and prosper, some will be irreparably damaged. But the talent storm is coming – which side of the coin will your business be on?
Find out more on navigating the talent challenge post-pandemic and how Phaidon International can support your business.
What is sustainability accounting? What does ESG mean? We have answers
Sustainability is a hot topic today due to increasing awareness of climate change and inequality, among other pressing issues.
The Earth just recorded a seven-year hot streak and we’re approaching the Covid-19 pandemic’s first anniversary. The crisis has had enormous implications on our mental health, the economy and income inequality. Post-pandemic, we need to build back better, and sustainability will be the key to success.
What is sustainability?
There is no universal definition of sustainability, but many point to the United Nations’ 1987 Brundtland Report that calls for sustainable development that meets our needs today without compromising the needs of those in the future.
This idea of meeting our needs without sacrificing the needs of our children, or our children’s children, tends to form the basis of most sustainability definitions.
The definition focuses on the planet’s capacity to meet our needs. Without a healthy planet, we will be unable to meet our needs for food, clean air, shelter and other basics. Those of us who live in the developed world — high income earners in particular — are far more likely to be contributing disproportionately to climate change, while those who live in less affluent parts of the world are more likely to suffer the consequences.
Who’s responsible for sustainability?
We all have a role to play in achieving sustainability, and these roles are interconnected. As consumers, we can make changes to our lifestyles to reduce our waste and use cleaner energy sources, but that’s not enough.
We buy products and services produced by companies, so they need to be responsible too. It’s estimated that 71 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from just 100 companies, including ExxonMobil and Shell. If these companies produced sustainable goods and services while consumers also took individual responsibility, it could have a powerful impact.
Governments play an important role too, creating and enforcing regulations such as putting a price on carbon to disincentivize its use.
Regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States and the Canadian Securities Administrators in Canada also set rules around what information publicly traded companies are required to disclose. These regulators require audited, financial information from public firms, but the same cannot be said for sustainability information that’s mostly voluntary and typically not audited.
As a result, we are left with missing information, or subject to volumes of information about what firms want to talk about, likely in an effort to enhance their reputation.
What is sustainability accounting?
Sustainability accounting is the practice of measuring, analyzing and reporting a company’s social and environmental impacts.
Various stakeholders have different interests. Employees may be interested in wage inequality — for example, how much more the CEO makes than the average worker. In the 1970s, CEOs made 20 to 30 times more money than the average employee — today, they make 300 times more.
Communities may be interested in how much pollution or greenhouse gases a firm is producing so that their neighbourhoods remain clean and safe. Investors are usually interested in a firm’s financial performance, including ESG.
What is ESG?
ESG refers to the environmental, social and governance information about a firm. There is growing evidence that companies that take their environmental and social responsibilities seriously perform better financially. This has naturally made investors sit up and take notice.
Sustainable responsible investing (SRI), or ESG investing, uses this information about a company to inform investment decisions.
ESG investors are attracted to companies that meet certain ESG criteria while they avoid investing in companies they believe are unethical, like tobacco or gun manufacturers (known as sin stocks). They also pressure firms to improve their ESG performance, or they divest from some companies completely.
How do we measure sustainability?
Measuring sustainability is where it gets tricky. Much of the information used to gauge a firm’s sustainability is provided by the company itself, and it’s not always audited. This makes it very different than financial information, which is subject to detailed audits.
Third-party organizations use this company-provided information as the basis to create different ratings and assessments, meaning there are serious issues with their analyses. While many firms provide this information voluntarily, many say one thing but do another, burnishing their reputation, for example, while continuing to pollute.
This means that a company’s true sustainability performance is difficult to accurately gauge. Because their ESG disclosures are voluntary, businesses don’t have to divulge anything they don’t want to, and there are few consequences for grand, baseless claims or non-disclosure.
The need for sustainability accounting
There is huge potential here, however, for sustainability accounting to play a key role.
There are currently a number of different ways to report ESG information. Among the most popular is the Global Reporting Initiative, which takes a multi-stakeholder perspective. That means that information on how a company’s actions affect many different parties — not just shareholders — is reported.
This can include local communities and employees. This approach captures many different elements of a company’s business operations. That’s more in line with a long-term view of sustainability itself and is one of the features that differentiates the Global Reporting Initiative from other measures.
There are other frameworks and proposals, including a current proposal by the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) — followed by companies in many countries — to create their own sustainability accounting standards. The issue? While the proposal would focus on providing pertinent information to investors, those same investors tend to be short-term thinkers and sustainability is inherently a long-term concept.
So while ESG has piqued their interest in making more money, that won’t necessarily lead to the broader, enduring societal sustainability that’s urgently needed in the midst of the climate crisis.
Right now, the current measurement systems are inconsistent and incomparable. Unlike the financial information for public companies that we can compare and rely upon, we do not have the same reliability for sustainability accounting information.
Why does it matter?
Sustainability accounting, ESG investing and SRI are not going away any time soon as pressure grows on companies to measure and report their sustainability information.
In terms of environmental sustainability, long-term efforts are critical for the sake of humanity and the planet. Sustainability accounting can help companies do business differently because what gets measured, after all, gets managed.
To achieve environmental sustainability, we need strong corporate standards that are quantifiably enforced, accountants trained to accurately and comprehensively measure sustainability — and we all need to play a role in changing how we live.
Our words and actions matter. As consumers, we can change our lifestyle, our investments and demand change from our governments. Together — along with accountants — we can get there.
Why SME manufacturing will need some anarchy to get ahead in enterprise IoT
As a leader of a growing SME in the science sector with 80 staff, half of whom are in manufacturing, I feel that my business is typical of the kind of company that must embrace digitisation, automation and IoT, both for our own benefit but also as part of our contribution to closing the fabled productivity gap.
Technology is all around us, in our everyday use, and the pace of its change and adoption is ever-increasing. We used to look at the space race, or Formula 1 cars, as a guide to the technology of the future in everyday life. Today, our phones are hundreds of times more powerful than the computers that put us on the moon.
In SMEs, however, I see a huge disconnect between personal technology and what businesses will adopt. It’s not that the individuals involved are Luddites, or don’t think there is a benefit to be derived – many just have the sense that “it’s not for businesses like us.”
We have to try to build a momentum similar to that in Germany, where the Mittelstand contains larger SMEs with a substantially greater appetite for IoT.
You can have all the trusted digitisation consultants you like, with all the government support financially possible. However, unless we change this mindset, there won’t be as widespread a take-up as we need to have an impact on nationwide productivity.
How shall we break down that barrier and build some momentum? I believe it must come from the bottom-up within SME organisations, from the shop or office floor. If we can convince those colleagues that technology is not too difficult or too threatening to their jobs, then we can build an unstoppable momentum.
It plays to my own view that businesses would be better run using a degree of “controlled anarchy”. Life is chaotic, and we each spend different amounts of time making sense of it. Much of this order is imposed on a business by its managers, and I would broadly suggest that order dulls creativity. Interestingly, IoT can make more sense of multiple variables and see patterns in data that are invisible to the human eye, and it can do it infinitely faster if we’re ready to let it.
The idea of controlled anarchy is that it’s the people on the shop or office floor who really understand the business, not leaders and managers. If businesses are brave enough to turn their organisation chart upside down and give genuine authority to everybody and anybody in the business, then quicker and better solutions can be found to the issues facing it. This is especially true in technological solutions, because these people know what the key drains of time and waste are.
I say, be bold and put the lowest rung of the business in charge, let them own the solutions, give them a budget and let’s make a meaningful shift towards closing the productivity gap.
David Smith is a member of the Board at Gambica and Commercial Director of Specac Ltd, a designer and manufacturer of accessories for the spectroscopy market, employing 85 staff at its Science and Innovation Centre in South-East London. Some 95 per cent of Specac’s products are exported.
David is passionate about SMEs, especially encouraging them to export, and he has a growing passion for the digitisation and automation agenda within SMEs as part of closing the UK’s productivity gap. David was Managing Director of Specac between 2008 and 2020, and oversaw a sharp growth in export revenues, culminating in a Queen’s Award for International Trade in 2018. He was also part of an MBO from Smiths Group PLC in 2015.
Are you an SME with similar thoughts, or perhaps you want to find out more about what other SMEs are doing and how they are controlling their digitalisation journey? Get in touch with a GAMBICA member of staff today at www.gambica.org.uk.
Hey, Siri… is that you?
Imagine not being able to tell the difference between a real person and a chatbot. Well, making such a distinction is getting harder with each passing month. Remember the days when interacting with a bot was a clunky experience that had you, at best, mildly irritated? Modern-day chatbots aren’t just competent, they have personality. They can be jovial, empathetic, and even share the occasional meme. In fact, chatbot technology’s ability to deliver a great customer experience (CX) has come so far that last year 40 per cent of people of all ages said they preferred to use chatbots when shopping online.
That’s a remarkable upvote for a technology whose underlying premise of quick and clever automated resolution was, not so long ago, closer to sci-fi fantasy than reality. Fast forward to a Covid-scarred economic landscape where there are fewer people free to deal with enquiries, and ties of brand loyalty fray with every sub-par customer experience. Against this backdrop, chatbots and other artificial intelligence-powered interactive minions are emerging as star players in a booming digital economy. Meeting consumers’ needs, in a cost-sustainable way, has never been so important or strategic – especially when the traditional one-time purchase has been replaced by signing up to ongoing services for everything: from cars to electronics, groceries to booze. The result has been that subscription e-commerce has grown 350 per cent in the past seven years. Conversely, customers are also quick to cancel a subscription and disengage from a brand that isn't delivering a superior experience.
So, in today's CX battleground, organisations are having to move beyond the basic product/transaction focus of the past and instead invest in meeting customer demands 24/7 as smoothly and effectively as possible. More than that, businesses need to find ways to foster and nourish long-term customer relationships – and at scale. For most, delivering the level of immediate service consumers expect can only be achieved through automation and using chatbot technology where conversations are now often indistinguishable from those with a “real” person. That sense of on-brand authenticity is vital to success.
From Eliza to Alexa
Compared with many other areas of innovation, creating technology that can “chat” has been relatively long in the making. Back in 1950, for example, British mathematician, computer scientist and codebreaker Alan Turing published a paper which suggested a basis for testing whether a machine could think. To pass the Turing Test, a machine had to be judged as being indistinguishable from a human in a typed conversation. Ever since, academics and commercial developers have refined the complex technologies required to conduct meaningful and credible conversations, which today take the form of chatbots.
The “chatbot” moniker didn’t come into use until the mid-1990s, by which time progress had been made, initially by computer scientists such as Professor Joseph Weizenbaum, whose 1966 ELIZA program took on the role of psychotherapist when in conversation. While ELIZA’s capabilities were impressive (it’s still possible to have a live conversation with ELIZA here), it was also easy to see why these technologies weren’t considered commercially viable until recently.
Today, massive advances in shared processing power, plus years of heavy investment and thousands of bright minds, have led to the rise of AI-powered general-purpose technologies, whose applications in sentiment tracking, natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning are all driving chatbots to become the ultimate customer-service assistants. The best examples can detect words, recognise moods and respond accordingly, deploying bi-directional human-like communication tactics, all the while generating the insights required for an outstanding experience at every stage of a customer journey, 24/7.
Within contact centres, for example, chatbots are being employed to simplify customer interactions by enabling dialogue around simple questions, complete purchases, or scheduling meetings, without the need for a live human agent. These bots can be the first port of call for customers with easily resolved enquiries, ensuring fast responses while simultaneously reducing repetitive tasks for agents and preserving their time for more complex enquiries.
Chatbots can also provide live updates to keep customers connected, saving human agents from repeating monotonous tasks. What’s more, NLP can transcribe speech to text automatically, supporting compliance with stringent industry regulations. This functionality also provides agents with relevant data on demand, reducing information discrepancies, and ensuring a fully connected customer journey can be delivered for every enquiry. In every case, the main aim of implementing chatbots is not to replace human agents but instead to ease their workloads and emphasise quality of interactions.
Today, organisations can design custom solutions to meet their specific requirements and build a solution that delivers the ideal outcome for a growing range of customer engagement scenarios. Ideally, intelligent chatbots and scalable automation deliver a consistently high-quality interaction, prioritising customer preferences. The result is not only better CX, but a more efficiently engaged contact centre process that is in sync with demand, and ultimately, can meet the needs of customers directly or escalate them to a higher level.
Remember, implementing chatbots is not about finding shortcuts to good customer service or simply boosting the bottom line by automating human jobs. They should always be implemented in concert with customer service professionals to maximise quality of service for a generation of people who increasingly want the option to ask questions and get help at any time and via any device.
All of which will make the human and the bot ever harder to tell apart.
Martin Taylor is Co-founder and Director of Redwood Technologies Group, a leading cloud communications tech provider with Content Guru and Redwood global operating entities. Martin is a leading innovator of significant IP and award-winning 'storm' services for the public and private-sector.
A button that tells your boss you're unhappy: why mental health wearables could be bad news at work
With gyms closed and millions cooped up and restless at home, it’s little wonder that “healthtech” is now being billed as the next big battleground over which the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Google will fight. Chief among their products are wearable devices that measure your heart rate, your step count, and dozens of other data points that keep you informed about your physical health.
The increasing prevalence of these devices is to be welcomed. They help people track their workouts, setting quantifiable goals that can help them stay fit and healthy.
But the introduction of wearables that measure our mental health – like employee mood tracker “Moodbeam” – should be greeted with a more cautious optimism. Such devices will, after all, hold some of our most personal data – and constantly logging our emotional state might even be counterproductive in helping us achieve better mental health.
The wearables boom
Wearables are now commonplace in people’s lives. The wearable technology market is currently valued at US$37 billion (£26.9 billion) and is forecast to grow to include 1 billion connected wearable devices by 2022. People value the ability to measure their health and performance, using “health indicators” like their heart rate to better plan workouts and fitness routines.
Wearables contribute to the “quantified-self” movement, which sees us use technology to collect and process more and more data about our lives in the hopes of optimising our behaviour. This movement has already spread into the workplace, with office workers now granted data showing them how long they spend sitting down during working hours. And now, companies on the hunt for the next big health indicator have landed on our mental health – a particular concern to emerge during the ongoing pandemic.
Leading this new development in wearable tech is the Moodbeam device, which is worn on the wrist. Rather than passively tracking physical health indicators, users of the Moodbeam device are encouraged to press one of two buttons – yellow for “OK” and blue for “not OK” – when they register a mood change, or at scheduled times of the day. The idea behind the device is to add emotional wellbeing to the established health indicator list, processing how our moods fluctuate across a typical day.
Linking to a smartphone application, Moodbeam gives an overview of “mood moments”, which aim to help users spot trends and patterns in their mental health over time. Users can also enter journal entries as well as pressing the wearable’s buttons, and this may facilitate greater self-awareness and better emotional literacy – helping users come to terms with bad habits, or moments in their days which make them feel “not OK”.
At the moment, Moodbeam is primarily marketed as a digital solution for employers to check in with their remote-working staff – effectively giving workers an opportunity to register their emotional upsets when working from home. But this system raises worrying questions about privacy and employer surveillance – and that’s before we’ve properly studied whether mental health wearables might actually cause more harm than good.
Instructive or invasive?
Our previous research has dealt with mood monitoring. We looked at how people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease responded to a monthly mood questionnaire as part of a wider digital intervention. We found that more than half of participants reported rising mood scores across 12 months.
This finding would not have been captured had mood not been recorded as a data point, highlighting the benefit of monitoring mood in patient groups. Even more frequent monitoring, with devices like the Moodbeam, may help people better understand their emotional wellbeing, while also providing additional insights to inform mental health interventions on the part of medical professionals.
On the other hand, we know employees haven’t responded well to having their feelings monitored in the past. In a focus group exploring perceptions towards wellbeing wearables in the workplace, truck drivers expressed scepticism about whether employers truly cared about their health – seeing it as a “tick box exercise” more for the benefit of employer reputation than employee wellbeing.
It’s easy to imagine wearables like Moodbeam causing employees anxiety and provoking fears about “what happens next” after they press a Moodbeam button – especially the “not OK” one. It’ll be important for companies to be clear about how such data will be used, setting out policies that explain how they’ll respond to negative feelings in their workforce. Privacy remains a concern for Moodbeam data, which is currently shared at an individual level with employers.
Beyond the workplace, it’s unclear whether the “OK or not OK” approach promoted by Moodbeam is the right one for mental health monitoring. Emotionally literate individuals are able to understand and express a wide spectrum of emotions, many of which may resist grouping into a binary choice of “OK” or “not OK”. And, if users are constantly pressured to judge their emotions, logging some as negative could lead to negative mental health impacts. Put simply: feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel even worse.
Moodbeam is yet to publish any data on user engagement and implementation. It’ll be important to see and examine this data, now that wellbeing trackers are looking likely to become another household health indicator – to determine if they’ll be helpful for users, or a sinister form of surveillance for employers.
In the meantime, companies deciding to employ wearables like Moodbeam must give careful consideration to what they do with mood data, and how they plan to use it to actively help their employees. And individual users should engage with this new technology with caution: it may help them map their moods more effectively, but it could also lead them to feel worse about their wellbeing in the long run.
Maxine Whelan, Assistant Professor - Centre for Intelligent Healthcare, Coventry University; Celine Brookes-Smith, PhD Researcher - Centre for Intelligent Healthcare, Coventry University, and Natalie Bisal, PhD Researcher, Centre for Intelligent Healthcare, Coventry University