IQ tests can’t measure it, but ‘cognitive flexibility’ is key to learning and creativity
IQ is often hailed as a crucial driver of success, particularly in fields such as science, innovation and technology. In fact, many people have an endless fascination with the IQ scores of famous people. But the truth is that some of the greatest achievements by our species have primarily relied on qualities such as creativity, imagination, curiosity and empathy.
Many of these traits are embedded in what scientists call “cognitive flexibility” – a skill that enables us to switch between different concepts, or to adapt behaviour to achieve goals in a novel or changing environment. It is essentially about learning to learn and being able to be flexible about the way you learn. This includes changing strategies for optimal decision-making. In our ongoing research, we are trying to work out how people can best boost their cognitive flexibility.
Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it. If you normally take the same route to work, but there are now roadworks on your usual route, what do you do? Some people remain rigid and stick to the original plan, despite the delay. More flexible people adapt to the unexpected event and problem-solve to find a solution.
Cognitive flexibility may have affected how people coped with the pandemic lockdowns, which produced new challenges around work and schooling. Some of us found it easier than others to adapt our routines to do many activities from home. Such flexible people may also have changed these routines from time to time, trying to find better and more varied ways of going about their day. Others, however, struggled and ultimately became more rigid in their thinking. They stuck to the same routine activities, with little flexibility or change.
Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions. It also supports academic and work skills such as problem solving. That said, unlike working memory – how much you can remember at a certain time – it is largely independent of IQ, or “crystallised intelligence”. For example, many visual artists may be of average intelligence, but highly creative and have produced masterpieces.
Contrary to many people’s beliefs, creativity is also important in science and innovation. For example, we have discovered that entrepreneurs who have created multiple companies are more cognitively flexible than managers of a similar age and IQ.
So does cognitive flexibility make people smarter in a way that isn’t always captured on IQ tests? We know that it leads to better “cold cognition”, which is non-emotional or “rational” thinking, throughout the lifespan. For example, for children it leads to better reading abilities and better school performance.
It can also help protect against a number of biases, such as confirmation bias. That’s because people who are cognitively flexible are better at recognising potential faults in themselves and using strategies to overcome these faults.
Cognitive flexibility is also associated with higher resilience to negative life events, as well as better quality of life in older individuals. It can even be beneficial in emotional and social cognition: studies have shown that cognitive flexibility has a strong link to the ability to understand the emotions, thoughts and intentions of others.
The opposite of cognitive flexibility is cognitive rigidity, which is found in a number of mental health disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder and autism spectrum disorder.
Neuroimaging studies have shown that cognitive flexibility is dependent on a network of frontal and “striatal” brain regions. The frontal regions are associated with higher cognitive processes such as decision-making and problem solving. The striatal regions are instead linked with reward and motivation.
The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, is an evidence-based psychological therapy which helps people change their patterns of thoughts and behaviour. For example, a person with depression who has not been contacted by a friend in a week may attribute this to the friend no longer liking them. In CBT, the goal is to reconstruct their thinking to consider more flexible options, such as the friend being busy or unable to contact them.
Structure learning – the ability to extract information about the structure of a complex environment and decipher initially incomprehensible streams of sensory information – is another potential way forward. We know that this type of learning involves similar frontal and striatal brain regions as cognitive flexibility.
In a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University, we are currently working on a “real world” experiment to determine whether structural learning can actually lead to improved cognitive flexibility.
Studies have shown the benefits of training cognitive flexibility, for example in children with autism. After training cognitive flexibility, the children showed not only improved performance on cognitive tasks, but also improved social interaction and communication. In addition, cognitive flexibility training has been shown to be beneficial for children without autism and in older adults.
As we come out of the pandemic, we will need to ensure that in teaching and training new skills, people also learn to be cognitively flexible in their thinking. This will provide them with greater resilience and wellbeing in the future.
Cognitive flexibility is essential for society to flourish. It can help maximise the potential of individuals to create innovative ideas and creative inventions. Ultimately, it is such qualities we need to solve the big challenges of today, including global warming, preservation of the natural world, clean and sustainable energy and food security.
Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, University of Cambridge; Christelle Langley, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, and Victoria Leong, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Nanyang Technological University
How content lays the foundation for the modern customer experience
Digital-fast brands turn to scalable content strategies to meet modern customer expectations.
The customer experience is now digital. Today, 58 per cent of customer interactions around the world are digital, according to a report from McKinsey & Company. This tells businesses that digital transformation isn’t just coming – it’s already happened.
The digitised world has changed two fundamental elements of the customer experience: speed and proximity. As Contentful CEO, Steve Sloan, puts it, “The distance between customer and brand has been reduced to a matter of pixels, and immediacy is the only timeframe customers are willing to accept.”
In this modern marketplace, the challenge for all businesses – century-old heritage brands and direct-to-consumer disruptors alike – is translating the dynamic experiences customers appreciate from in-person interactions into the pace and proximity they expect from digital. This digital-ﬁrst and digital-fast environment has positioned content as the foundation of the customer experience.
Content is the way brands package up their stories to educate, inform and inspire. Content is also how brands deliver experiences across all the digital channels, devices and environments customers now frequent.
The question brands are asking is not what, but how?
Scalable content powers the modern customer experience
In-person customer interactions enforce a predictable pace for commerce. There are literal front doors and sales representatives to manage and respond to customer needs. The digital world, on the other hand, has many entry points: mobile devices, apps, smart speakers, digital kiosks, wearables and a slew of emerging technologies. To keep up with this demand for content distribution, brands have relied on traditional content delivery strategies like legacy content management systems (CMS), product information management systems (PIM) or digital asset management systems (DAM).
Traditional delivery strategies have been an effective stopgap for companies trying to push content out across a ﬁnite number of channels such as websites and apps. However, as digital customer touchpoints proliferate, these vertical-focused solutions now create siloes that trap content within different management systems and force digital teams to rely on manual copy and pasting efforts to reuse their content.
The second challenge of single-purpose solutions, like monolithic CMSs, is rigidity. Monolithic systems can be described as opinionated technology that forces businesses to create digital solutions reflecting the tool rather than the customer. When faced with digital customers’ new demand for customisable experiences, monolithic solutions start to show their fragility.
For years, siloed content and fragile monolithic solutions have been accepted as the reality for businesses operating in the digital era. However, leading brands are now turning to content platforms such as Contentful that offer ﬂexibility and scalability through an API-ﬁrst approach. An API (application programming interface) allows devices to communicate directly with each other, going from human to machine scale. With an API-ﬁrst approach, content platforms remove internal content siloes by emphasising, not restricting, the integration of content across a brand’s tech stack. This gives brands the freedom to develop the best content experience for their customers today and evolve their strategies by integrating new tools in the future.
Taking an API-ﬁrst approach to content allows brands to embed their content management and delivery into whichever technology stack they prefer, meaning they aren’t tied to any one particular system or solution. This ensures digital experiences are tailored to business and customer needs rather than technological capabilities. By adopting a platform approach to content, leading businesses are using content as the foundation for customised customer experiences that don’t drain internal time and resources.
What does scalable content management look like?
In response to customer demand for video doctor appointments due to COVID-19, Livi, a medical app owned by healthcare company Kry International AB, launched a global telehealth product in just four weeks. To deliver on this experience, Livi needed to build out a country-speciﬁc website for each of its markets, comply with local regulations and deliver services in the appropriate language while keeping its brand identity consistent across all channels.
To deliver on the speed and scale of this project, Livi used Contentful’s content platform. Contentful’s modular content system allowed Livi developers to build the technological capabilities necessary to deliver the new telehealth services reliably, while also enabling content creators to update and publish medical information across the services swiftly. Contentful’s API-ﬁrst approach then allowed the Livi team to integrate their site with a translation and localisation tool, making it possible to launch the service in 10 languages in just four weeks.
In the world of retail, Matches Fashion, a well-established curator of luxury men’s and women’s clothing and home goods, shows how a brand that once relied on in-person interaction is now delivering engaging digital experiences to its customers. The company originally started more than 30 years ago as a brick-and-mortar business, but today is driving 95 per cent of its revenue from online sales.
This move to digital involves shipping products to customers in 176 different countries, processing different currencies across regions and maintaining websites and apps in four different languages.
To keep pace with the content demands at each of these new digital customer touchpoints, Matches Fashion used Contentful’s content platform to reduce the marketing team’s reliance on their technical colleagues while still delivering the customised experiences their customers expected. To support the need for fresh and relevant content, the engineering team designed a host of content models, including homepages, articles and campaign banners, that integrated across the business’ expanding digital channels. With these content models in place, the marketing team was able to edit and publish content autonomously whenever it needed to.
According to Matches Fashion’s trading and campaigns manager, “Contentful has been game-changing... it has allowed us to be more ﬂexible and reactive than ever before with our marketing content and has streamlined processes for multiple teams across the business.”
Brands across every industry are learning how to use a platform-ﬁrst approach to deliver engaging digital customer experiences. Learn more in Forrester’s report on customising experiences at scale
by Paul Biggs is Director of Product Marketing at Contentful.
The future of flexible work is here to stay – how can organisations respond?
The forced and immediate shift to remote working, which happened almost overnight in March 2020, will turn out to have been one of the most significant and long-lasting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Any indication that this was to be just a short-term necessity has, over time, proven illusory. Governments across the world have responded to successive waves of the pandemic by repeatedly opening, closing and reopening economies. Even now, with a large percentage of the UK population vaccinated, many UK employees are still expected to work from home in what is now being termed a “hybrid model”.
Some of the best-known names in the UK have already announced plans for introducing more hybrid ways of working. These include insurance giant Aviva, with 16,000 employees, and accountancy firms BDA and KPMG, all of which are reporting a move to more flexible, hybrid working methods. Investment firm JPMorgan and recruiter Michael Page allowed workers back in the office in late March, but none have reopened at full capacity. In the case of advertising and PR firm WPP, the BBC has reported that it has reopened its UK offices at 30 per cent capacity, and that figure is expected to rise to 50 per cent as the summer progresses.
As a result of this move to a new way of working, demand for office space is also declining and businesses are choosing to restructure the very way they work by focusing on their estates. Capita has closed 49 of its 294 offices since the start of the pandemic, while one of the Big Four, Deloitte, has closed offices at Gatwick, Liverpool, Nottingham and Southampton.
Permanent remote working is now being considered by both employers and employees who would not have even considered this back in 2019. The World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs Report, published in October 2020, states that 44 per cent of workers can conduct their work remotely, so this is a very real dynamic taking place now.
Further, a September 2020 poll of more than 2,000 UK office workers conducted by the British Council for Offices found that nearly half of respondents said they intended to work from home some of the time going well into 2021 – and this was at a time when the necessity of another national lockdown was viewed as fantasy.
These are seismic changes – office space reductions combined with new flexible ways of working and employee expectation that this is the “new normal” are leading to firms having to re-evaluate not just where they work, but how they work.
Central to this is a desire to ensure that this shift towards flexible working does not negatively impact productivity, collaboration or company culture. There is a body of research that has shown that people can be as productive, if not more so, when working from home. But for employers there is the very real issue that the practical and operational advantages of an entire workforce working from home could be diminished.
If organisations are going to prepare for the new normal of flexible work environments, the solution is to develop a well-formed, intelligent information management strategy – one that promotes a collaborative and productive working environment while adhering to governance, compliance and security protocols.
So, what can companies do now to prepare a strategy for the new normal of remote work? What should they be putting focus on in developing that strategy? Below are a few key considerations.
Information access and workflow automation
Most businesses live and breathe documents, files and information – they are the lifeblood of a streamlined, productive and efficient organisation. Arguably, the most important tenet of a flexible work strategy is that knowledge workers should be able to access and manage information from any device and any physical location, no matter where that information is stored – in a CRM, ERP, shared drives or network folders.
Not only should staff be able to access information, but the same processes and workflows that govern their work should be in place in a flexible work environment.
Avoiding shadow IT
Shadow IT is where individuals incorporate technology solutions on their own, away from the prying eyes of the IT department. For example, one individual may decide they’re going to use Dropbox for cloud storage, while others decide on Google Drive and yet more use Box. This creates two types of sprawl – content sprawl and SaaS sprawl – both despised by IT departments, not just for the inconvenience but the risk posed to established governance and security protocols. An umbrella strategy should account for a unified document management system.
Bring your own device (BYOD) and rogue endpoint applications can put information security at risk. Many companies are using an array of technology to help allay those risks – company-sanctioned hardware, VPN connections and a secure enterprise information management platform.
The result of this shift to flexible working is that employers now need to be thinking about how they are going to respond to employee expectations of new working patterns.
Government guidance which requires people to work remotely will not be around forever. As so many employees have indicated a preference for remote working at least part of the time, employers need to consider carefully how best to remain an employer of choice and stay competitive.
The solution is an intelligent information management platform, and the key principles that underpin a solid flexible work strategy are already there. All you have to do to work remotely is grab your laptop and go.
The information, files and documents you need are likely a couple of clicks away, from any device. It’s this concept of anytime, anywhere access to company information – with a built-in information security framework – that truly sets the stage for remote working, giving staffers the same experience as they would at the office.
And by doing that, companies can ensure the continuity, productivity and efficiency of their remote workforce.
by Colin Dean, Director, M-Files
M-Files provides an intelligent information management solution that enables a Smarter Way to Work by delivering connected content and intelligent automation to learn more visit www.m-files.com or download the new The Forrester Wave™ Content Platforms, Q2 2021 Report
INDUSTRY VIEW FROM M-FILES
Inside edition: the paradox of internal recruitment
When making efficient and effective hires, the best source for recruiters has always been current employees. Here’s why employers must finally start focusing on making internal hiring happen.
No matter where in the world you happen to work, it’s pretty safe to say the past year will have been challenging if you’re in recruitment.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, talent organisations across verticals, industries and geographies have withstood fierce hiring headwinds in the face of the biggest contraction in the global economy since the Great Depression.
With businesses of all sizes forced to tighten belts and budgets over the past year, employers everywhere have been forced to make some tough decisions around recruitment and retention, with many organisations opting to implement furlough schemes, introduce redundancies or resort to some form of reduction in force.
Despite the introduction of such initiatives as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or the Job Support Scheme in the United Kingdom, which have protected 11 million British jobs since the onset of the pandemic, an estimated 2.6 million UK workers claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance last month, evidence of the persistent and pervasive effects of Covid-19 on the labour market.
Even today, with unemployment in the UK down to a pandemic-era low of 4.8 per cent, the ONS still estimates that fully one in 20 British workers who are actively looking for a job are unable to find one. And that’s before the CJRS is set to expire at the end of September.
While the future remains clouded in uncertainty, there’s at least one thing employers can count on: the inherent effectiveness of internal recruitment, which remained the top source of hire for recruitment organisations last year, as it has every year for the past two decades or so. There is no doubt, even in the new normal, that the old rules of recruitment still hold: the single most impactful place companies ultimately find the talent they need to achieve hiring success is perhaps the most obvious – their current employees.
Yet, for some reason, despite its track record of efficacy and impact as the top-performing overall source of hire for companies of all sizes, internal recruiting remains one of the more overlooked, and underfunded, components of most companies’ talent acquisition strategies.
The good news is internal talent mobility is finally starting to attract the attention – and resources – that it so rightfully deserves in recruitment. At least, that was one of the key takeaways from The State of Internal Mobility 2021 Report, a new benchmark report from SmartRecruiters which takes a look at the current state – and future outlook – of internal recruitment and talent mobility.
Of the 310 completed responses received from enterprise TA professionals in 14 countries (we ended up filtering out the few who hired for organisations with less than 1,000 employees since these were largely outliers), we found a significant divide between what talent leaders say they’re doing to improve internal mobility and the actions that they’re taking to achieve those objectives.
For example, 61 per cent of respondents reported that their company currently has a “clearly defined, well documented process established for recruiting internal employees.”
This number sounds fairly encouraging, until you consider that these respondents recruit for some of the world’s biggest employers and best-known brands.
Since each works at an organisation with at least 1,000 employees, however, and 98 per cent of respondents reported their company had at least one enterprise TA system in place, such as an ATS or HCM, this number is actually surprisingly low.
It’s fascinating to note that two in five respondents had no formal internal recruiting programmes in place, nor any sort of standard policies or processes in place for internal talent, despite the complexity of the organisations they work for.
Even with relatively large budgets, global imprints and enterprise-grade talent technology systems, 40 per cent of these employers would apparently rather spend money on SaaS subscriptions and paid job advertising than promoting and retaining the top talent already working in their organisation.
This shows that even though every respondent agreed to some extent with the statement that “internal mobility is somewhat or very important to hiring success,” two in five worked for companies without formal internal recruiting programmes in place.
This shows a definite and dramatic gap between action and intent, particularly considering the relative spend each employer allocates towards talent technology or other expensive, but fully external, sources of hire such as paid job boards, recruitment marketing or social recruiting initiatives, or point solutions focused exclusively on passive candidate sourcing and pipeline building.
Despite this disparity in budget and resources, however, the business case for internal recruiting is not a particularly hard one to make.
Consider that while nearly 76 per cent of new hires for exempt roles end up staying for at least one year at an employer, that number drops to only 45 per cent for workers who have been in a role for three years or more, a significant, and steep, drop off in retention (and engagement) that generally occurs between the employee’s first and third anniversary.
This is a small data point, but one that should make it obvious exactly when recruiters and hiring leaders need to actively intervene – or at least minimise unwanted churn while increasing employee retention.
At the very least, on an employees’ first and second work anniversaries, statistics show that career development conversations and encouraging employees to pursue internal opportunities once they’ve reached these milestones more than doubles the likelihood that they’ll feel fulfilled instead of needing a backfill.
For those employees who are promoted, 75 per cent will remain with their company through their third work anniversary; 62 per cent of employees who made a lateral move last until their third work anniversary.
According to this data, simply giving an employer a different role or responsibilities, even if their title and pay remain the same, will improve the likelihood of retaining a top performer over a three-year period by around 20 per cent. This is as close to a no-brainer as exists in talent acquisition today.
That’s because at the end of the day, recruiting in general, but internal recruiting in particular, comes down to trust. And until we as recruiting leaders can effectively build relationships with the candidates we hire, and until we can establish credibility as a career resource rather than a professional inhibitor, we’ll continue to miss the mark when it comes to talent mobility.
But if you can effectively build the processes, procedures and people required to not only make internal recruiting a foundational part of your talent acquisition strategy but also a foundational component of your company culture, you’ll do more than just boost recruiting and retention outcomes. You’ll create the kind of workplace people actually want to work at. And when a job starts becoming more than a job, and when an employer stops becoming a paycheck and starts becoming a true career destination, external recruiting becomes a whole lot easier too.
Everyone is looking for talent. But the companies that find business success – and hiring success – will do so because they’re finally able to cash in on what’s long been their greatest asset, and their biggest competitive advantage.
Download the internal mobility report here.
by Matt Charney, Director of Customer Experience & Thought Leadership, SmartRecruiters
The network transformation journey can lead to diverse destinations
Read about telecommunications these days, and you’ll find no shortage of predictions of the amazing things communication service providers (CSPs) can do with network transformation. Smart factories, remote surgery, drone-based delivery, a “metaverse” of augmented reality (AR) experiences… the list goes on. All these innovations, and many others, are legitimate possibilities. And the business models they represent are very much in play for operators building new cloud, edge and 5G capabilities into their networks.
At the same time, the sci-fi future these use-cases represent tells just one side of the story. You don’t have to live on the cutting edge to benefit from modern telco cloud innovations. In fact, plenty of service providers use these tools to deliver solutions that might not show up on Star Trek, but that drive tremendous value for CSPs and their customers today.
Let’s explore the transformation journeys of two CSPs: Airtel Africa and KDDI. I sat down recently with these service providers, which operate in very different markets, serving different types of customers. And while their goals and strategies couldn’t be more different, both report major benefits from network transformation.
KDDI – building new experiences with 5G edge innovation
If you want examples of the more cutting-edge possibilities of network transformation, look no further than KDDI, one of Japan’s premier mobile operators. KDDI leads the pack in telco cloud and edge innovation, and should be among the first places we look to when contemplating possibilities for 5G.
The broader telecom industry has been talking about digital transformation for years; KDDI has actually done it. It has adopted agile software methodologies and DevOps to quickly develop, test and bring to market new services on its cloud-based network platform. In fact, KDDI has become so expert in agile software that it now offers services to help with customers’ own digital transformations.
Building on new edge investments, KDDI also now offers a public cloud-connected edge compute service for enterprise customers. And it has launched multiple proof-of-concepts to show what enterprises can do with edge cloud capabilities, including some of the most advanced AR applications you’ll find deployed.
KDDI has shown even greater leadership, however, in advancing 5G innovation. KDDI leaders don’t claim to know exactly what the future holds for 5G or which use-cases will prove most valuable. But rather than using that as an excuse for stagnation, KDDI is working directly with third-party innovators and customers to find out. The company has established the 5G Business Co-Creation Alliance, complete with a 5G co-innovation lab. KDDI invites technology partners creating new 5G applications, and enterprises interested in using them, to work together to develop new ideas using their 5G and edge infrastructure. When those ideas prove successful, KDDI and its partners can jointly bring them to market as new service offerings. For example, one joint effort is now a live service that one enterprise customer uses to control automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) on its factory floors, over public 5G networks.
Airtel Africa: overcoming market challenges with edge cloud transformation
KDDI is blazing an exciting trail in telco innovation, but its path is far from the only one. Consider an operator working with a very different set of circumstances: Airtel Africa.
Airtel Africa stands at a different place in its network transformation journey. Its customers have less interest in exploring new 5G possibilities – and indeed, Airtel Africa’s 5G plans are still several years out. African enterprise and consumer customers care very much, however, about getting reliable, always-on data services everywhere they need them. Given the unique challenges of the African continent – vast distances to cover, extreme geographic and weather variation, lack of power grid availability in many places – delivering that is no simple task. At the same time, those challenges create opportunities to use new telco cloud and virtualisation technologies in innovative ways.
In many African markets, mobile handsets serve as the primary gateway for consumers to access the digital world. As a result, Africa has become a natural testbed for mobile-first innovations, such as mobile money, which is more advanced there than in most European markets. African enterprises are also hungry for new options for secure, reliable data connectivity – especially in mining, where companies operate billion-dollar operations in hard-to-reach locations far from traditional IT infrastructure.
Airtel Africa aims to lead the market in meeting these needs, and others, with new cloud and virtualised data centre capabilities that it’s building at the network edge. These network enhancements enable Airtel Africa to position content close to consumers to provide a better digital experience, while delivering highly available data services to enterprises. Airtel Africa can scale edge services up and down with demand, while managing its multinational footprint from a centralised operations centre. And, as the edge cloud infrastructure grows, Airtel Africa can use new edge computing capabilities to offer fully-featured IT services to mining sites and other remote enterprise locations.
All of these advances draw on modern telco cloud and virtualisation technologies, which help Airtel Africa overcome the unique challenges of its market. The ability to virtualise core network functions, for example, means it can extend reliable network coverage and new digital capabilities to more places, quicker, and inexpensively. This is critical, as it would be enormously costly to deploy and maintain specialised hardware in many parts of the market, if it’s even possible at all.
Airtel Africa also uses extensive network automation – including sophisticated AI- and machine learning-driven self-healing capabilities – to fix network issues that previously took hours in minutes. In other markets, that level of automation might be a useful cost-saving exercise. For Airtel Africa, which struggles to hire skilled engineering personnel, it’s a fundamental requirement for meeting customer needs.
Where will your network transformation take you?
KDDI and Airtel Africa are clearly following very different paths on their transformation journeys. So which approach is best? Both are, because the “right” network transformation strategy is the one that solves your unique business problems and benefits your customers.
That’s the great thing about embracing cloud, edge and overall network transformation. Whatever your business strategy, you now have a versatile platform to execute it quicker, reliably, and at a lower cost. And, unlike yesterday’s networks, this platform is built to continually change and evolve. So, no matter where you’re starting your transformation journey, you can continually build on your investments to bring new possibilities to your customers.
For more information please click here
by Stephen Spellicy, VP Product Marketing, VMware
Communications service providers are opening service innovation floodgates
When was the last time you talked to your service provider? If it’s been a while, it might be time to check in. Over the past few years, the world’s leading communication service providers (CSPs) have been modernising their networks – from the core to the edge – to reimagine their businesses. And it’s all in the service of one goal: bringing life-changing new applications and services to enterprises and consumers.
Today’s CSP is much more than just a connectivity provider. They’re a sophisticated IT partner that uses the latest cloud architectures and IT software models to deliver digital capabilities businesses can’t get anywhere else: ultra-low-latency edge services to power augmented reality, telemedicine, smart factories, mass-scale secure access service edge solutions, and private 5G and LTE networks. And that’s just the beginning.
There’s a common theme behind these innovations, and it goes deeper than the expanded flexibility and agility of modern CSP networks: openness. For the first time, operators have embraced open architectures and ecosystems, so they can engage with partners and customers in new ways. Today, CSPs can mix and match best-of-breed network functions to give enterprises more customisation and choice. They can unify resources from multiple public cloud providers within a single, consistent framework. They can partner with leading application providers to use their unique network and edge capabilities in new ways and jointly create new possibilities for businesses.
The best part: this transformation isn’t something you have to wait for. It’s happening right now, all over the world. Following are just a few examples:
BT: building an open and flexible core
BT – one of the world’s biggest providers of fixed and mobile services – is using open ecosystems to reimagine its core network. BT can now assemble best-of-breed networking and security services from multiple vendors, package them within a single offering and deliver them as a fully managed service – practically anywhere, on demand.
These capabilities are fuelled by an open, flexible core network and a dynamic ecosystem of third-party network function providers building solutions. BT can mix and match more than 200 third-party network functions that have been prequalified for its network to create tailored enterprise offerings. And, through partnerships with 225 ISPs worldwide, they can distribute those next-generation services anywhere.
Bottom line: BT can give enterprises more choice and flexibility to create positive business outcomes. By working with best-of-breed providers across multiple technology areas, they can jointly bring to market innovative, exciting new concepts and differentiated customer experiences. And they can do all of it on an open, flexible, cloud-based digital platform. BT’s enterprise customers gain a choice of management, commercial flexibility, and the ability to link their systems directly into BT in powerful hybrid cloud architectures that they can control.
NTT DOCOMO: unlocking massive scale at the edge with Open RAN
Operators around the globe are opening up their radio access networks (RAN) to enable more choice and flexibility and more efficiently handle the huge increase in radio traffic that comes with 5G. At the top of the list for Open RAN (O-RAN) innovation is NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s premier mobile carrier.
NTT has not just opened up its own environment to third-party RAN vendors and open radio interfaces. Its created the 5G Open RAN Ecosystem, where network vendors, third-party solution providers, enterprises and even other operators can test and validate new Open RAN technologies.
With the lab initiative, NTT is demonstrating the viability of open, disaggregated radio networks in a test bed that mirrors one of the world’s most demanding environments: the Tokyo metropolitan airport region. NTT is now working with other service providers – including smaller operators, who could never create this kind of test environment on their own – to validate new multi-vendor RAN solutions.
Through this effort, NTT is accelerating the development of new enterprise solutions that will capitalise on the huge improvements in capacity, performance and latencies that come with tomorrow’s 5G RAN to empower a new breed of consumer and enterprise services.
Telefonica: bringing fluid, flexible edge services to enterprises
In Spain, one of the world’s largest multinational mobile network operators, Telefonica, is reinventing the edge. It transformed its global networks to employ open, cloud-native, disaggregated network components. As a result, it now runs a modular, multi-vendor, software-defined architecture to deliver customisable fixed-line and mobile offerings to enterprise customers.
For example, Telefonica can combine fixed and mobile connectivity, SD-WAN, and web and endpoint security into a single offering, using whichever vendors their customers prefer. At the same time, because these services are based on modular, cloud-native components, enterprises can manage and control them using the same IT tools and processes they use in other parts of their business.
That’s just the beginning. Telefonica is currently deploying new cloud-native edge nodes across its footprint and shifting to open, standards-based O-RAN that will bring powerful new real-time processing capabilities to the edge. Initially, enterprises can take advantage of Telefonica’s own edge cloud services. But those new edge nodes also provide an ideal starting point to deploy external workloads.
In the next few years, businesses will begin consuming next-generation enterprise services that take advantage of Telefonica’s edge computing and 5G capabilities over both public and private networks. Telefonica is already partnering with third-party application providers and enterprises to co-create high-value use cases in areas like augmented reality for tourism, using digital twin applications to optimise manufacturing via real-time models of smart factories, industrial traffic management and many others.
The future is bright – and wide open
After years of CSP transformations, it’s exciting to see the results making it to market and changing the way people work, live and play. The next step in the transformation, the part we’ll most excited about at VMware, is when nearly all of the network is multi-cloud, multi-vendor and cloud-native. It will connect and enable people, companies and machines in new ways that were never possible before.
by Stephen Spellicy is VP Product Marketing and Solutions at VMware
How no-code companies can use automation to win the future
Automation. Optimisation. Digital transformation. These buzzwords are now commonplace on whiteboards and in corner offices throughout the world, as executives recognise the importance of technological innovation for long-term growth and success. According to the 2021 Gartner CEO Survey, one in five CEOs used the word “digital” when asked to describe their top five business priorities for the next two years.
But while a vast majority of enterprises are pursuing some form of digital transformation, many of these initiatives fail to meet their objectives. From lack of executive support to siloed deployments, innovation is often hampered by poor planning and miscommunication; as IT teams struggle to advocate for the necessity of their solutions, some teams choose to double down on their preferred legacy systems. However, a trend is emerging among the companies finding success with their digital initiatives. A recent Gartner report found that 80 per cent of technology products and services “will be built by those who are not technology professionals” by 2024. Digital innovation is becoming democratised, bolstered by rich data resources, low-code development tools and automated processes. Creatio’s 2021 State of Low-Code/No-Code Report offers a clear picture of the current situation as well as what’s to come. With 43 per cent of IT, digital and business leaders reporting that a lack of skilled resources is the most significant barrier to their digital transformation, it follows that companies will pursue tools that enable them to make progress without the need for highly skilled experts.
The growing appeal of no-code platforms
While Gartner’s prediction for non-technology professionals building technology products is clear, we are still in the early innings for development by non-skilled professionals. The State of Low-Code/No-Code Report found that just 6 per cent of low-code development is conducted by business users without any assistance from IT teammates. For most businesses, the barrier to entry is a lack of familiarity with the tools: 60 per cent of respondents claim that the biggest obstacle to low-code adoption is a lack of experience with low-code platforms.
Support for no-code technology is growing, however. According to report respondents, low-code is largely being used primarily for custom app development within separate business units. As business leaders come to recognise the potential for low-code and no-code platforms to speed time-to-market, reduce costs and lower maintenance needs, they will undoubtedly overcome any hesitance or unfamiliarity to begin using these platforms in their operations. The benefits of low-code and no-code are limitless within an enterprise, as they support optimisation across sales, marketing, customer service, and every possible business unit.
How to create a low-code company
What steps do companies need to take once they’ve decided to invest in low-code and no-code solutions? Creatio’s recent eBook, 4 Steps to Creating a Low-Code Company, identifies people, processes and technology as the core elements of a successful transformation: “For processes and technology to work harmoniously and efficiently, you should empower people with appropriate skills, experience and knowledge to create, optimise and automate operations that are key to reaching business goals.” Building a low-code company begins with a wholesale reassessment and revision of the company’s tech strategy. This approach demands an honest evaluation of the tech stack: do employees have the tools they need to succeed? Will the company’s current solutions still be effective over the next five years? Deficiencies in tools can have knock-on effects on productivity and morale. If an employee doesn’t feel they have the right tools or training for the job, they’re less likely to take the initiative to proactively address a challenge, and they’re more likely to feel disengaged and frustrated in their work.
If a company identifies gaps in their tech stack, it can then begin to evaluate whether those gaps could be filled by low-code tools and automated processes. Those same frustrated employees can be empowered to develop solutions in their business unit using low-code development tools. The next step following an assessment of the tech strategy is a company-wide mindset shift: regardless of an employee’s position, they should be given the opportunity to become a developer. Every single employee in a low-code company is capable of identifying a problem within their area and building the app that solves that problem. Long-term low-code success requires enterprises to address one of the biggest issues plaguing digital transformations: lack of communication and cross-departmental collaboration. Low-code companies must embrace alignment, with company leaders advocating for the removal of silos and open communication between employees at every level and in every business unit. The beauty of a no-code platform is that it enables anyone – skilled or unskilled – to develop a business app or design a new feature. This democratisation removes any barriers between IT teams and non-IT teams, but proper communication is necessary to ensure that this level playing field becomes a point of pride rather than a point of contention.
Uniting IT and non-IT teams While the promise of no-code empowers every employee to be an app developer, we’re still not at the point where business users are comfortable building their own applications without IT involvement. According to a recent ZDNet eBook, IT departments are still being called upon to “hold users’ hands” in low-code environments. However, the same IT departments have recognized the long-term utility of low-code platforms for fostering innovation, with 92 per cent of IT leaders reporting being comfortable with business users employing low-code tools.
In the near-term, open-minded IT teams can help to bridge the gap towards a future of innovation through low-code technology by providing the support and encouragement necessary to introduce business users to low-code and no-code platforms. Instead of viewing these initiatives as a threat to IT activities, technology specialists can view low-code platforms for what they truly are: a vehicle for innovation that enables IT teams to focus on higher-level tasks – which has always been hailed as the goal of automation.
To find out more about how companies can take advantage of no-code platforms, check out Creatio’s 2021 State of Low-Code/No-Code Report.
by Katherine Kostereva, founder and CEO, Creatio
The new workers will need new networks and new habits to prosper
As we gradually transition out of Covid restrictions, information workers are finding themselves in terra incognita. Do they go back to offices rapidly, and if so how? What do we need to equip our teams – not just in terms of productivity but also wellbeing and good mental health? With Gartner predicting 74 per cent of organisations seeing more remote working, what will a hybrid approach to work look like?
Those of us who have had long careers in the technology sector have tended to have more freedoms relating to how and where we work than others. When I worked in marketing and brand management in India, there was an expectation that we would work traditionally in offices, at our own desks, at prescribed hours.
Later, in consulting, everyone had an assigned desk, but the fact that we were working on a global scale meant few of us were actually at them. At a software giant, my work was totally remote, and at an internet giant, I was primarily back to desk work. Where and how work happens depends on people, culture, workloads and the task at hand. However, pre-Covid, leadership teams across Fortune 500s and enterprises didn’t spend hours figuring out how and where to work as they are doing today. The convoluted question of how best to get work accomplished is now a CEO and management team issue across every sector.
There are more questions than answers, and we can’t know with conviction what even the near-term future of work will look like. We must be humble in our planning, be able to absorb lessons and course-correct accordingly. It makes sense to reflect on what we have learned from this tumultuous year-and-a-half, both for what’s best for the enterprise as well as from the perspective of our careers.
The bandwidth wars
2020 and 2021 encompassed domestic battles for bandwidth that forced us to prioritise who could get access to precious Wi-Fi links and when. This formula was in constant recalibration: children’s online lessons ranked first, then parents’ Zoom/Teams/Meet calls. We all became network managers, capacity planning, investing in better bundles and deeming unlimited data cellular packages worth the price.
The next step might be that we all become network engineers too. It seems likely that more of us will work from home and that means moving beyond consumer-grade bandwidth packages, where speeds are measured in single megabits and security depends on how recently you patched and updated your router.
Connectivity matters more than ever and it’s incumbent on companies such as Colt to come forward with partnerships and offers and suggest new best practices, because if your home is now a productivity zone then enterprise-grade networks can’t just be located in shiny urban towers. Equipping users with excellent home networking, training, support and security will become a line item on many corporate spreadsheets. And as AR and VR grow and video and voice quality continues to evolve, we’ll be more dependent than ever on a communications infrastructure that is resilient and won’t buckle under new network traffic and usage patterns, just like the metropolitan-centric ones that have long prevailed.
Tech is our friend
VPNs and network tariffs that can be easily dialled up and down have a clear relevance here, and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is our friend, delivering protections and policy-based access to services regardless of where we are physically. Remote communications and teamwork have been turbo-charged by video, so we have to adjust our capacity planning accordingly. More than half of HR managers feel that weak technology infrastructure is the biggest impediment to successful remote working.
We also need to consider the human factor. Our eyes are tired from the glare of ring lights, our vision blurred with the constant close-ups of video calls and our spines stressed as we put in 10-hour days hunched over our home office spaces. At Colt, we have introduced “clear your plate” days where we advised everyone who could to shun video call tools and be anywhere other than their home desks. And when we did, we saw productivity go up.
Technology also stepped up to bring to life our need for contact, community and symbolism. Starved of human contact, tools such as WhatsApp Groups and Facebook Workspaces became emergency zones for culture, empathy, sympathy and banter. The extent to which we are tribal became very apparent to us. It is this dual aspect of technology – bane and boon – that drives home the point that connectivity matters, but people and the human spirit matter more.
We need to be mindful: I was onboarded entirely via a screen and had to understand company culture that way. But now I am having to unlearn the screen when I meet my colleagues in person. We must consider that our assumptions may be wrong and that we hold hidden biases. I enjoyed working from home but when I went into the office it was refreshing to have specific times and the rigour of an office working environment frame my day. I might expect young people to enjoy that freedom, but if they share a flat with others in cramped environments and they are trying to learn about the world of work and the excitement of being in cities then they may not.
We also need to be attuned to semiotics – reading the subtle interpersonal signs and non-verbal communications that we learned by cultural osmosis in the days where we saw our colleagues on a predictable and regular basis. We know that being socially distant led to suffering for many, so we need to be aware of potential anxiety and the impact of change on mental health.
The newfound freedom to work in more flexible ways will be a boon to many but we have to understand that there are catches. We must be aware of the temptation to see the colleague who is more often in the office with us as the go-to person to get things done. That may require some training and learning of new habits.
The optimist in me says that in this brave new world of dynamic working we will be more fulfilled and rounded people, able to give our best selves to employers. But we will need to be attentive to the nuances of what the next months and years will bring. The trinity of people, processes and technology is more important to hold in balance than ever.
Do you know what your traffic will look like when people return to the office? Try our bandwidth calculator: colt.net/calculator
INDUSTRY VIEW FROM COLT
Digital experience platform as a modern means to improve business performance
In the world of ongoing digital transformation, the digital landscape is rapidly filling with an increasing amount of content every day. Companies are forced to fight the never-ending battle of not only attracting visitors but keeping their attention and retaining their interest throughout their journey towards making a purchase. But in a world where everyone’s rushing to develop the strongest digital identity, what is the best and most efficient way for businesses to stay relevant and win the battle?
Long gone are the days when having a static website and attracting visitors to it manually was the highlight of technology that could make a company stand out. To meet and exceed ever-growing customer expectations, it’s essential to constantly innovate and keep up with best-of-breed technologies. Only then can a company steer its focus towards improving its business results, and outshine the competition, no matter what industry it is in.
Beyond the scope of a content management system
Nowadays, for businesses to maintain a high level of competitiveness, it's fundamental to invest in a well-designed website with strong online content. But it’s no longer the case that all they need to accommodate modern tactics for managing content, increasing visitor engagement and improving business results is a content management system. Technological demand goes way beyond that. To satisfy modern visitors, you need to build stable, personal relationships with them. And that is best done by providing unique digital experiences.
As the need for more sophisticated digital marketing is growing every day, things such as content personalisation, marketing automation, A/B testing, omnichannel marketing and deeper marketing analytics have transformed from nice-to-have to must-have. A typical solution for many businesses still is to start integrating individual features to their existing platform as soon as they identify the need to leverage them. Building the so-called headless CMS might, however, turn into creating an overly complicated, convoluted solution that can result in increased implementation costs and lower ease of use.
Seamless digital experiences to boost business results
To avoid possible technological inconsistencies within a bloating technology stack, a digital experience platform (DXP) offers the helping hand many companies are waiting for. By combining digital marketing, content management system and commerce capabilities all in one place, it presents an easy step towards fulfilling most businesses’ digital requirements and dreams. It contains all the necessary tools a company needs to successfully run a website, and yet remains straightforward to use, concise to navigate and easy to understand. The uses of a modern digital experience platform, such as the one from Kentico Xperience, can be truly versatile. It doesn’t matter if a business belongs to finance, manufacturing, retail, education, tourism, healthcare or beyond. A well-set-up DXP can be applied universally to deliver perfectly fitting digital experiences that suit any customer needs precisely. This provides a successful way of nurturing customers on their buyers’ journeys, resulting in companies reaching their desired business goals reliably.
Knowing your digital maturity is key
However, despite the broad scope of a DXP, the ability to deliver well-fitting digital experiences with the highest level of efficiency is dependent of every business’s digital experience maturity. This metric, also called customer experience maturity, refers to a company’s level of sophistication in measuring and delivering digital customer experiences on its website, and its ability to leverage the potential of tools available for doing so.
As the final outcomes directly impact the revenue, knowing and understanding the level of digital experience maturity is crucial for every company. It’s therefore advisable for businesses to assess their level of digital experience maturity as exactly as possible. To accommodate this important issue, Kentico Xperience has created an easily understandable, concise Digital Experience Maturity Model that helps companies to estimate their individual level.
Correct assessment for increased value and better performance
The Kentico Xperience Digital Experience Maturity Model includes an array of factors, based on which companies can identify their stage on an experience journey. Each stage goes hand in hand with a range of typical problems they deal with on a regular basis, that can be covered and solved by appropriate tactics and tools. For each business, realising its position and adapting its technology stack accordingly, a positive return on investment becomes a lot more attainable.
All in all, providing customers with the best reachability, service and purchase convenience, personalisation, ease of use and channel flexibility is the necessary way to reach and maintain a top level of business performance. It is challenging as it requires developing and executing complex, well-considered strategies. But acknowledging the importance of solid digital experiences, as well as finding the best ways to address them, is vital for companies that don’t want to get left behind.
Find out more about the Kentico Xperience Digital Experience Maturity Model and assess your business at www.xperience.io
by Dominik Pinter, Managing Director, Kentico Xperience
Successful digital transformations need a focus on customer experience
Customer loyalty will only happen if you listen with empathy and then act on what you find.
Companies today need to find new ways to digitally attract customers, make the entire buying cycle more convenient for the online purchaser, and provide proactive post-sales service. These new imperatives have driven numerous organisations to completely redefine their value proposition to customers. We have also seen how important it is to seek customer feedback regularly to keep track of their evolving needs, and to maintain an ongoing reading of their needs and preferences.
We no longer live in an era where just gathering basic customer data is sufficient. Businesses must deeply understand and deliver what customers love, and they can only do that by truly embracing the customer’s perspective, which we refer to as the customer’s “truth.” It’s all about deeply understanding the context of your customers, and how each step in their journey with your organisation is linked and not a separate one-time event. Capturing your customers’ complete truth is essential if you expect to be fully informed by whatever insights they give you.
Getting to your customer’s truth has three key interrelated components – listening carefully, empathising with whatever you hear, and being committed to taking action based on what you are told. You need to make each of those central to your company’s culture and operational structure if you are serious about sustaining strong customer loyalty.
The customer experience (CX) should be a catalyst to drive cross-functional alignment and collaboration, with every leader understanding how all functions in the company contribute to the customer experience. As part of this, customer insights must be shared and actioned organisation-wide.
A successful CX strategy requires both careful consideration for your customers and their journey, as well as prioritising the deep data-centric insights which help to uncover broader customer sentiment. This approach of combining both the customer voice with customer insight is what we call Total Experience Management (TXM). It allows you to see a complete truth and realise the value of putting truth into action to deliver extraordinary brand, employee, product and customer experiences.
TXM brings together all business functions that impact the customer journey and places each customer touchpoint in the context of a complete customer journey. Everyone in the organisation is working toward a common goal of customer satisfaction. CX leaders have visibility across the full journey to draw insights, prioritise and shift budgets and create innovative solutions that cut across department lines. And, most importantly, your CX strategy needs to inform the actions required to drive the right outcomes for your company and for your customers. To ensure that happens consistently, a holistic and agile program – based on responsiveness, relevance and underpinned by performance being measured – needs to be put in place. I refer to this as a “closed-loop TXM.”
Technology has played a critical role in effective CX and has shaped how people interact with brands today. While smartphones and social media have all helped create new gateways for companies to connect with their customers over the past decade, technology is also essential for what you do with the information those connections provide. Customer-centric companies harness the power of combining CX and data analytics to seek real-time customer feedback from all sources— structured and unstructured — and combine these sources to create meaningful customer profiles. It’s a compelling vision to realise. But it will only happen if you are willing to make a full, carefully considered and top-priority commitment to CX.
For more information on how to uncover your customers’ truth and put it into action click here
by Ross Wainwright, CEO, Alida
Robot farmers could improve jobs and help fight climate change – if they’re developed responsibly
Farming robots that can move autonomously in an open field or greenhouse promise a cleaner, safer agricultural future. But there are also potential downsides, from the loss of much-needed jobs to the safety of those working alongside the robots.
To ensure that the use of autonomous robots on farms creates more benefits than losses, a process of responsible development is required. Society as a whole needs to be involved in setting the trajectories for future farming.
We are part of a project called Robot Highways, which is currently demonstrating multiple uses for autonomous robots made by Saga Robotics on a fruit farm in south-east England. Robots are now treating plant diseases in fields and glasshouses, and will be mapping terrain, picking, packing, and providing logistical support to workers over the course of the project. This is achieved by attaching different tools to an autonomous “base robot”.
In this way, autonomous farming robots have the potential to do some of the laborious agricultural work for which farmers in some countries often struggle to find employees at a cost that keeps food prices competitive. Our project has produced an estimate that robots may eventually help reduce the number of human farm workers needed by up to 40%.
At the same time, robots could help create new jobs. The UK’s National Farmers’ Union argues that increasing use of digital technologies in farms will attract younger, skilled people to a sector struggling with an ageing workforce.
There could also be environmental benefits. Swapping traditional, fossil fuel-powered farm machinery for electric robots charged from renewable sources will cut farming’s carbon emissions. Robots equipped with ultraviolet lights that can kill mildew on plants could reduce fungicide use by up to 90%.
Machines like those produced by the Small Robot Company can navigate in tight spaces between objects like trees, so could potentially be used in agroforestry systems to perform weeding, disease treatment and mapping. They could also help reduce chemical use on farms by targeting individual plants, rather than whole fields.
However, unrestricted use of autonomous farming robots could also create problems. In parts of the world where there is not an agricultural labour shortage, reducing the demand for human workers means people will need resources and opportunities to retrain in other sectors. They may just end up moving into dull, dangerous and underpaid jobs in other industries such as mining, which will be needed to produce the materials to make the robots.
Humans who are left on the farm – or walkers on footpaths – will face health and safety concerns from having to work alongside the robots. The possibility of someone hacking a farm robot and forcing it to do their bidding cannot be overlooked. And poorer farms that can’t afford robots at all are likely to be left at a disadvantage.
There are also concerns over the ownership of the data collected by robots operated by commercial companies – and whether that data will be used for the benefit of those companies, rather than the farmers.
To make sure farming robots are developed responsibly, we need to get those people who might be affected by the technology –- from manufacturers and regulators to rural communities -– thinking about all its possible implications.
This might include so-called “Wizard of Oz” studies, in which remote controlled robots are tested alongside human users in order to simulate what reactions and consequences fully autonomous robots might produce once the technology is ready. This would allow robot designers to save money and manage expectations by studying user experience at the early stages of development. Another option is hosting “robot movie nights” to help show the public how robots on the farm would behave.
Once countries allow autonomous robots to be used on farms, safety and data-ownership regulations will need to be swiftly updated. In Australia, a code of practice for such robots has been developed in the crop sector and similar work is underway in the UK. This will set out robots’ obligations, state the conditions in which robots can be used, and determine who is responsible for worker and public safety.
The stakes of getting things wrong are high. Injured workers, hacked or unreliable robots, or negative consumer perception could all stand in the way of the promises of autonomous robots being realised. To help avoid this, governments can start providing rural digital and internet infrastructure, training, and financial support so that farmers can hit the ground running if autonomous robots hit the market.
Will we see autonomous robots picking fruit across Britain by 2025 – or even sooner? That depends: not on the quality of our technology alone, but also on our ability to work together to listen, learn and respond to the needs of farmers and society alike.
David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension, University of Reading; Marc Hanheide, Professor of Intelligent Robotics and Interactive Systems, University of Lincoln, and Simon Pearson, Professor of Agri-Food Technology, University of Lincoln
IoT is going to disrupt your industry, but getting started doesn’t have to be complicated
Innovative companies worldwide are already leveraging the internet of things (IoT) to change the way their industry operates. This disruption is not just the reserve of Silicon Valley – it’s about boosting uptime for manufacturers or adding intelligence to hand sanitisers. But for businesses, getting started with an IoT project can seem daunting. The technologies are many and complex, the applications are almost endless and the potential risks can seem scary. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
A study carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 2020 highlights that 58 per cent of companies are now deploying IoT technologies for their internal operations and 45 per cent as part of their external products and services. Whatever the application, 57 per cent of companies surveyed reported a higher return on investment than they expected. Putting the boom in deployments to one side, it’s worth highlighting that the 2013 and 2017 editions of the EIU survey chronicled how early adopters faced significant obstacles. Three years later and 35 per cent of those pioneers are now looking to double their investment in IoT, having overcome initial hardship.
Use cases vary from tracking the humble pallet as it travels through a supply chain and across the world to managing all of Taipei’s lighting in just one interface. In fact, the repair costs of a failed Taiwanese light can amount to twice the cost of the light itself by the time you factor in a night shift of engineers, public liability insurance and the disruption caused by road closures. So IoT-based predictive maintenance planning now pinpoints failures on a closed street before they happen, dramatically reducing repeat visits to the same location.
Fleet managers have capitalised upon this burgeoning technology, using connected devices to enhance the visibility of their assets, improve customer service, reducing insurance premiums and vehicle maintenance costs.
The IoT is generating far richer insights that can better inform a business, which is why 26 per cent of the organisations the EIU surveyed see IoT as pivotal in their planned use of artificial intelligence. In short, anyone looking to leverage AI probably needs to get their head around IoT first.
Digital transformation is not just about finding efficiencies and improving customer experience. It’s also unlocking previously untapped “as a service” (aaS) revenue streams by retrofitting connectivity to previously unconnected devices.
Buy versus build
But as any of those early adopters will tell you, it’s not a simple task, especially if you plan to go it alone. An architect would not be in gainful employment if their foundations had to be ripped out after two years, yet this is commonplace among businesses trying to create their own proprietary IoT deployments. Organisations often forget that a new device estate needs to be secure and scalable for the entire life cycle, not just upon rollout.
Considerations for a secure, scalable IoT estate
Cost, complexity, and trust are all common concerns held by the many stakeholders, with new considerations that come to light as enterprises move from research, through proof of concept (POC) and into the ongoing lifecycle management of an IoT device estate. Even the largest multinational corporations, such as Johnson Controls International, are turning to third parties such as Pelion for support. In doing so, they’re simplifying global connectivity, updates and device management, plus the growing prospect of managing applications at the edge of their network to reduce latency and cost.
If you’re an organisation about to embark upon your own digital transformation, ask yourself this: can your organisation update cell networks to optimise roaming costs as your shipment rolls over the Canadian border? Can you deploy a security patch to protect a global estate of intelligent door locks without leaving your office?
Choose your partners wisely
When tendering for an IoT partner, the questions you ask could make the difference between a solution that only supports some of your current requirements and a solution that fulfils future IoT aspirations.
Ensure you are drilling into your actual needs rather than just discussing technology by doing the following:
• Make sure you’ve discussed expected data consumption, device location and whether mobile or fixed devices will be deployed, as these considerations impact your success and ongoing cost. Do they have a broad ecosystem of partners who can tailor a solution to your specific connectivity and power consumption needs?
• Think about the deployment at each stage of the device life cycle. Can your chosen partner adapt during the device’s deployment and can they offer a global SIM to match your export aspirations?
• What assurances have you been given to ensure devices remain secure once in the field and do they have a demonstrable track record of consolidating multiple devices into a single screen?
Breaking down the barriers to IoT adoption is a necessary task for anyone looking to revolutionise their industry. Teaming up with a partner like Pelion can help enterprises keep things simple. Pelion can help you get your devices connected wherever they are in the world, give you comprehensive management capabilities so you can optimise their performance and provide the tools and processes you need to ensure they remain secure throughout their lifecycle. Focus on what you do best and don’t let the complexity slow you down.
For more information please visit www.pelion.com
INDUSTRY VIEW FROM PELION
Seven lessons in closing the gap between data and revenue
Governed and trusted enterprise-wide analytics have the power to drive adoption and skyrocket growth – here’s how.
Earlier this year, GoodData surveyed 100 IT executives on their current and future data and analytics priorities. The majority (85 per cent) of those surveyed agree that a weak insights delivery layer hampers their ability to scale their analytics programmes. As a result, it’s likely their business is impacted as well.
We’ve all heard how data is the new currency – after all, everyone is collecting and measuring something. So, why is it increasingly difficult to provide consistent insights and analytics across an entire organisation, business and customer base?
GoodData solves this problem. We help companies small and large to fill the gap in consistent insights and analytics and to build revenue from their revitalised analytics. This is what we’ve learned:
Cloud has ushered in a modernisation wave for data storage. But how do you access data stored in lakes or warehouses? How do you make sure the right internal and external users have access to the data pipeline?
Here’s how: data as a service (DaaS) provides real-time, governed, scalable, global insights and analytics both inside and outside of a company – and cloud infrastructure enables DaaS. The most innovative businesses have the infrastructure to deliver insights better, faster and at a reasonable cost to whoever needs access.
Across business operations, a lack of strategy leads to lack of investment and return – thus drying up support for future investment. A successful data strategy requires support systems and solutions to work efficiently and effectively.
The more a company invests in data – with both capital and culture – the easier it can be to turn data from a cost centre into a revenue generator. The most successful, innovative companies are managing increasing amounts of data to gain an edge. Data should be seen as something that can empower teams, and that vision needs to come from the top.
As the proliferation of data accelerates, companies cannot become complacent about how they’re leveraging it. Having access to data via IT teams or complex software isn’t enough. To become a data-driven business, and to stay agile and competitive long-term, companies must chart a path forward that makes actionable insights readily available to the entire organisation – and, in turn, ensure every decision can be a data-driven decision.
Decisions are made across all parts of a business. It’s tempting to hold data scientists responsible for data literacy. And, of course, technical teams should still know how to understand data.
But not everyone at an organisation needs to be able to interpret formulas based on a CSV file. For analytics to be truly transformational, every user must have access to data in a format they understand – augmented with semantic information. If your analytics solution presents the data in a simple way with accessible storytelling, anyone at a business can tap into its power.
In layman’s terms, shadow IT is the result of businesspeople solving their problems outside of the IT organisation. This is what the majority of business intelligence is today: a network of flash drives and personal cloud storage full of spreadsheets and CSV files. BI also depends on desktop tools paid by personal credit cards and boutique consulting services paid from departmental budgets.
True, protective data management is at a minimum. The value in taking BI outside of IT lies in flexibility. But for the company as a whole, that flexibility proves to be an inhibitor. The widespread usage of desktop tools results in countless versions of the truth: everyone defines data in different ways, and discussions end up having different meanings, resulting in faulty decision making.
Early BI efforts were run entirely by IT, while today’s BI is a free-for-all. We swung the pendulum from one side to the other, yet neither has worked.
The right answer is in the middle: the future of analytics must allow everyone to leverage data in the cloud to build their own personalised dashboards, create insight applications and, most importantly, to share and collaborate. The future of data depends on collaboration between IT and business teams. IT will focus on governance, consistent business rules, data asset development, accelerated response and real-time data, and businesses will have the freedom to innovate with low-code/no-code analytics tools.
True data companies have a balance between complex BI tools that IT and data science teams can leverage for long-term planning and simpler tools that provide business users across the rest of the company with clean and consistent data insights.
Today, most companies have invested in the former. However, top data and analytics companies are outperforming the competition because they’ve invested in the last mile of analytics: where employees at all levels are empowered to make data-driven decisions, and the company as a whole is nimbler and more innovative.
Consider Zalando: each of its 2,500-plus brand partners needs insights about how Zalando’s 32 million active customers behave on the platform. Zalando partnered with GoodData to provide relevant and timely insights, such as what products are selling where, to whom, and why, allowing brand partners to maximise revenue, grow market share and create new revenue streams from data they collect. When Zalando’s brands are successful, so is the platform itself. Zalando has conquered the last mile.
A unified analytics stack drives growth
With the right data and analytics tools, organisation-wide access is possible. A unified analytics stack – using the same platform to power both internal analytics and analytics as a product – is revolutionary. And that's exactly what GoodData does. Companies that truly enable and embrace data across the organisation will yield its most valuable benefits: profitability, efficiency and an improved customer experience.
Want to learn more about data as a service? Request a custom demo with one of our data engineering experts.
The future of work lies in normalising the blended approach
In the past year, millions of employees detached from the nucleus of where work happens – the traditional workspace – which dramatically changed the nature and pace of how things get done.
Millions of employees detached last year from the nucleus of where work had previously happened – the traditional workspace – dramatically changing the nature and pace of how things get done. Large staff meetings sitting around a conference table are now conducted at home with desktop PCs, cameras and microphones. Conversations now use digital technologies such as click-to-call and asynchronous messaging.
People have proved resilient and adaptable, but now, with an increasing number of people getting vaccinated in the U.S. – and other countries doing even better, we’re seeing organizations starting to consider adopting in-person work. As we do, it’s imperative that we use the digital momentum of 2020 to normalise the blended work approach of 2021 and beyond.
We all know that remote work works. Surveys continuously show that most employees across the globe are as productive in performing their individual tasks as they were before the pandemic struck. Half of employees recently surveyed in Germany, India and the US who transitioned to or remained remote during Covid say they are at least as productive on collaborative tasks that normally would be performed in a physical conference or team room.
But just as much as we know remote work works, we also know that life will likely return to some kind of “normal” in the next year – and this raises its own questions. What do we do about school or daycare, for example? Other areas of life may move at a slower or faster rate of reopening than our workplace. That means that, even when we’re back in the office, there will be things we’re going to need to take care of. Because other areas of life may move at a slower or faster reopening rate than our workplace, there are personal and professional obligations to consider as we return to the office.
We’ll need to remain detached from the working nucleus to some extent. Not only this, but employees want more control over the time, pace and place of their work. It’s what we have needed for years but are now only seriously considering the impacts of a once-in-a-century pandemic. This is what the blended work approach is all about. It calls for a mix of technology and face-to-face tasks, combining a traditional physical presence setup with online working.
How workstream collaboration enables the blended work approach
A workstream collaboration (WSC) platform provides organisations with everything they need to make the blended work approach work: ease of use and interactivity, mobile-centricity, breadth of seamless functionality, and global accessibility. Users can:
Workstream collaboration enables employees to work more productively and with greater satisfaction, whether that’s in-office, remote or a blend of both.
Here’s why a WSC platform is vital for the future of work:
The power of mobile
Mobility for work has been undervalued during Covid with millions of employees self-isolating at home. Everything we can do on our mobile device can be done on a desktop with the same level of interactivity, connectedness and functionality. Yet as the world reopens, we will see the power of mobility reappear. Even if people go back to the office, they may not necessarily be attached to the office. The convenience of mobility in our world is unparalleled. A WSC platform can be used just as freely as a mobile app as it can be in a traditional office setup.
The power of creative disruption
Successful organisations can navigate high-speed, high-agility environments to surface ideas and creatively fill gaps, powered by adaptable, contextual, digital communications. They understand the importance of a flexible, digital communications platform to learn, adapt, and move faster than their competitors – even if they have a full workforce in-office physically present. WSC unlocks this business value at a global distributed scale to enable long-term disruption.
Eliminating traditional hierarchies and team structures
Most people – whether they work from home or in-office – don’t engage in workstream collaboration. They’re still working in their own functions with their own management structures. A WSC platform allows organisations to ditch traditional functions and job titles, focusing less on who owns what and more on the ecosystem employees are contributing to, and pulling knowledge from that ecosystem. Businesses that understand this are moving forward in a dynamic, creative and agile way. It’s important to note that this initiative is fuelled far more by cultural changes, from the top-down, than technology changes.
Improved mental health and physical wellbeing
As mentioned earlier, people have long wanted more control over the time, pace and place of their work – be it in-office or remote. That could mean Paul stays home on Tuesday because he has a deadline on Wednesday and he really wants to hunker down and focus at home. Or that Liz joins a team meeting happening in the conference room from her desk because she’s swamped and needs every spare minute. It’s not a revolutionary concept to give employees a work/life balance, but for many organisations the right tools didn’t exist to make this a reality until recently.
The world is not going back to work. We’ve been working. What we are doing is going forward to a new world of work. And as organisations prepare to reopen their offices for the new world of work, they’ll see that they can have the best of both worlds without affecting productivity or bottom-line results with a WSC strategy.
Click here to learn more about workstream collaboration solutions from Avaya
Why efficiency in construction is a global issue
Real-time access to information and collaboration capabilities could transform the entire construction industry.
All of our lives are touched by the construction industry every day – from our homes, to our schools, to our hospitals. The industry has built the world we know, and it’s building the infrastructure we need to support a rapidly growing population.
The construction sector has invested in technologies to support this growth for some time now, such as robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence. Yet construction hasn’t experienced the same productivity gains from technology as other sectors. Why?
I’ve worked in the construction industry for most of my life, and one thing has never changed: the success of every project comes down to how well everyone on the team communicates and collaborates. Most of the available technology focuses on a few pieces of the problem, without solving the key challenge: connecting all people, systems, and data to provide a single source of truth.
The need for effective connection and efficiency has grown exponentially. Today, the industry faces increasing regulatory and contractual complexity, supply chain disruptions and a dispersed, mobile workforce – all of which demand greater communication. These challenges are exacerbated by an ongoing skilled labour shortage. This puts even more pressure on an industry that is already low-margin and high-risk.
No matter the headwinds this industry faces, it will find a way to build. There will always be a need for new infrastructure, homes and hospitals to be built. Growth begins with connecting everything and everyone in one place.
Construction companies realising their full potential
Take HBS Group Southern, a large UK-based building services specialist. It has unlocked real-time insight into project performance across more than 50 projects, each of which has between 50 and 600 different plots over multiple phases and involves over 150 subcontractors, electricians, plumbers and apprentices across different locations. Think about the costs saved by being able to accurately forecast material requirements across these jobs, amid a volatile market.
Similarly, consider what it means for Swissroc to be able to use a single, centralised platform to streamline workflows and standardise processes. Swissroc regularly saves weeks in administrative work and produces higher quality builds, which has led to increased referral business and a 300 per cent increase in revenue three years in a row.
For small and large companies alike to realise these efficiency gains and scale to meet global demand, teams must be empowered with actionable data, and equipped with technology that puts their data to work. According to McKinsey, assembling and analysing data is one of the most critical ways to unlock greater productivity.
The opportunities with this data are virtually limitless, but I’m excited about a few areas in particular:
Eliminating information silos in the preconstruction phase is essential for accuracy and visibility into project performance. Every stakeholder must have access to the same information. This enables, for example, the estimating team to efficiently develop and win competitive bids or price changes that occur, while the project team won’t be adversely impacted by outdated information or information lost during the handoff from the preconstruction team.
2. Collaborative and efficient design
Innovation in building information modeling (BIM) has allowed construction professionals to track, manage and collaborate on all 2D and 3D designs, thus eliminating confusion and rework in the field. For example, Josh Soules, a foreman at North Mechanical Contracting, said: “Having access to elevation drawings, on the fly, in Procore, is just one more tool that enables me to do my job more efficiently."
3. Ongoing cost management
Cost management is top of mind for all construction companies as they grapple with demand and changes brought on by the pandemic. Building a bridge between incurred and reconciled costs is a responsibility shared by all, and connectivity is key as different parts of a business unite to maximise profits. Success requires all stakeholders to be united on one platform for transparency, collaboration and control.
Efficiency as a result of connectivity in construction is an immediate, global issue. When communication is seamless and decisions are based on accurate information, productivity soars. This will transform the construction industry so it can better scale for an ever-growing global population and an insatiable demand for infrastructure.
Learn more about how Procore is advancing construction by improving the lives of people working in construction, driving technology innovation, and building a global community of groundbreakers.
by Tooey Courtemanche, Founder and CEO, Procore
AI-enabled operations of telcos for digitalisation of industries
How software and AI are becoming the brain of telecom networks to reinforce digital businesses
5G is the common denominator behind digitalisation and automation, the connected world, and smart enterprises. While industries are transforming and automating at an unheralded pace, 5G service providers are being plunged into the role of agents for the success of those industries, and not without benefits – there are massive monetisation opportunities for service providers.
A digital economy worth almost a trillion dollars hinges on the capability of the underpinning networks to deliver. But to unlock the network’s full potential, telcos might want to take a leaf from the hyperscalers and their use of automation and intelligence technologies. And while billions are being spent on the development of IoT, Industry 4.0 and the connected world, far less is devoted to the automation and intelligent technologies that could enhance the quality and reliability of the telecom networks that will form the backbone of the new trillion-dollar economy.
The future role of telcos
Telecom networks need to offer advanced connectivity services that are on-demand and delivered in real-time with unprecedented availability and quality of service. The expected experience of the enterprise user is a swift response, and the expected behaviour of the enterprise user – similar to a hyperscaler company’s user – is the choice to churn between networks when services don’t perform. Enterprise users would expect that guaranteed SLAs for use-cases, such as connected vehicles, industrial processes and remote healthcare are always met. SLA guarantees are mostly integral to the enterprise’s business model, and to make the model work, telcos will need to work doubly hard.
While 5G networks promise a high level of response and service using network slicing, edge connectivity and private networks , they still lag in offering automation and intelligence, important for high agility and assure the promises are maintained over time. By introducing these, telco network efficiency would increase by an order of magnitude, reinforcing service provider business.
Are 5G networks equipped to assure the enterprise demand?
As billions of new devices are added and use cases from multiple industries boom, 5G networks are under huge pressure to manage the complexity, scale and speed of Industry 4.0 and smart enterprise services. 5G networks need to be fully autonomic to deal with this challenge. The term autonomic relates to an automated, intelligent, predictive, and experience-driven way of operating the network. This is missing today.
A higher level of intelligence is required to deal with the immense complexity, scale and diversity of devices and use-cases powered by the network, that goes beyond the precision required to run the network efficiently and effectively. The 5G network of today has become highly disaggregated (Open RAN, VRAN, CRAN, Edge, etc.) and the intelligence is now delegated to the edge and private access networks. Assuring services now requires a system that uses AI to deal with the diverse and distributed nature of 5G; to act as the nerve centre of the network and command its mission-critical and business-reinforcing operations. This will lead the modern 5G (and future connectivity technologies) to the reality of an autonomic telco network.
BRAIN (Business Reinforcement using Artificial Intelligence for Networks)*
The autonomic network will be realised only if AI is used to assure its agile operations and to produce intelligent analytics to ensure that business problems are immediately and accurately resolved.
Since service providers are quickly embracing a collaborative approach to co-innovating and co-creating services using AI for operations and analytics, this is the perfect time for them to collaborate with assurance vendors to enrich the service provider’s telco data lakes, which will guarantee a high degree of accuracy on the AI/ML models. This democratisation of access to network data through a BRAIN system will allow service providers to innovate faster.
BRAIN is not only about the use of AI to assure future networks intelligently and for their autonomic operations. It is a powerful concept to reinforce and realise business objectives, as billions of dollars are being spent on making Industry 4.0 a success. The components of BRAIN are intelligent software (service assurance), big data, AI, cloud and open API. The BRAIN is an enabler of several capabilities (including real-time orchestration, automation, and analytics) that enables service providers to ensure high performance and reliability for Industry 4.0 and private mobile networks.
The way forward
Having served tier-one telcos around the world for the past two decades, MYCOM OSI has embarked on an exciting new journey of building the BRAIN for public and private mobile networks through collaborative work across the industry. MYCOM OSI plays a key role in bringing the concept to the real world. Working with an ecosystem of hyperscalers, technology companies and system integrators, the BRAIN will enable the democratisation of the network data that is critical for the success of tomorrow’s autonomic telcos, private mobile networks, and smart enterprise networks.
*BRAIN (Business Reinforcement using Artificial Intelligence for Networks) is a MYCOM OSI concept.
To find out more, please visit www.mycom-osi.com
Mounir Ladki, President and CTO, MYCOM OSI
Spatial computing: the next frontier of industrial efficiency
Spatial computing represents the logical next step in digital transformation for manufacturers looking to take worksite optimisation to a whole new level, writes Steve Dertien, chief technology officer at PTC
Smart factories are about to get even smarter. With the adoption of spatial computing – the digitisation of spatial relationships between machines, people and objects in order to identify their precise location and movements within a 3D space – industrial companies have an opportunity to take the optimisation of worksites to a whole new level.
To understand the scale of that opportunity, let’s first take a step back. Over the past decade, manufacturers have been able to reach new levels of efficiency through industrial internet of things (IIoT) programmes. These have equipped factory-floor machinery with smart sensors able to report on their status and usage and receive instructions remotely.
These connected operations have led to far greater insight into how facilities are running. In turn, companies have been able to make significant strides in terms of maximising revenue, reducing costs and improving quality – but the current benefits only extend so far, because IIoT still lacks important spatial information.
In short, traditional IIoT suffers from blind spots when it comes to the physical execution of processes in a 3D environment. When something goes wrong, often a worker must be sent out to diagnose the bottleneck – whether that’s an equipment malfunction, a colleague taking longer than usual to complete a task, or a misplaced pallet at one end of the production line. This relies on that worker being able to deduce the nature of the problem and put it right, a process that can be haphazard, error-prone and painstakingly slow.
Eyes on the ground
Over the next decade, spatial computing promises to tackle these blind spots, providing smart factories and other industrial workplaces with more accurate, non-human “eyes on the ground”.
The term “spatial computing” was defined by MIT Media Lab alumni Simon Greenwold in 2003, but it’s only in recent years that new technologies have made his futuristic vision possible. These include artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning; camera sensors and computer vision technologies to track environments; IIoT to monitor and control products and assets; and augmented reality (AR) to provide the human user interface.
Spatially improved e-resolution cameras and AI in particular are opening up completely new applications. New camera technologies don’t just capture two dimensions; they also measure distances between machines, people and objects. When you can link the 3D images of multiple cameras and analyse the findings, it’s entirely possible to create far more comprehensive, real-time simulations of reality. The result is a “digital twin” of an entire factory, which can be monitored and controlled by interdisciplinary working groups, collaborating globally and remotely, as if they were all stood together on the factory floor.
If that vision sounds wildly improbable, it’s important to recognise that spatial computing is already hard at work today. If you’ve ever impatiently tracked the arrival of the next metro train on a passenger information screen or hungrily monitored the journey of your food delivery from a local restaurant to your doorstep, you’ve seen it at work. Spatial computing is already seen in the highly automated warehouses of e-commerce giants, where it’s used to orchestrate the rapid collection of specific goods from miles of shelving by automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in the most efficient way possible to meet customer expectations of next-day delivery.
But the potential use cases for spatial computing are far broader, especially in other industrial settings. In short, when a manufacturing company can achieve better oversight of the interactions and movements of every machine, person and object involved in a process, they will have the information they need to resolve any inefficiencies they identify in time, motion and use of space.
That’s good news for bosses and their teams. Today, many managers rely on manual time and motion studies to optimise the work of employees – but according to a study by global management consulting firm Kearney, 43 per cent say they’re not confident in the findings these yield. Leveraging spatial computing analytics for continuous process improvement can more accurately and readily identify worker and production bottlenecks than previous methods. Spatial “heat maps”, for example, will give new clues into the time spent by a worker in a particular location at a particular stage in a workflow and what routes around the factory are used most frequently.
For workers, meanwhile, spatial computing connects them as a consumer and provider to the digital ecosystem that surrounds them. It can pinpoint for them, for example, where an error occurred on the shop floor and identify the best way to reach the trouble spot.
By analysing how employees perform on various tasks, it’s possible to identify the types of work where they perform best and then deploy them on tasks that match their particular skills and physical attributes. I like to think of these workers as “industrial athletes”, empowered to achieve their best work in ways that are more efficient, and safer, too.
It’s also a great opportunity for manufacturing companies to tackle their persistent skills gaps, through the training and reskilling of workers and by attracting younger recruits looking to forge careers in advanced, technology-driven environments. Spatial computing, for example, might be used to enable a human operator to reprogramme a production-line robot to perform a new task or designate waypoints for an AGV to carry a heavy load across a factory. With a shared understanding of the space and events happening around them, humans and machines can collaborate more harmoniously.
Look to the future
The impact of Covid-19 on the manufacturing industry has been huge, with many factories worldwide hit by closures and most others having to tailor operations and activities to suit reduced workforces, obliged to self-distance. In many cases, the remote monitoring/management capabilities delivered by previous digital transformation projects have paid dividends and many manufacturers are now inclined to double down on these investments. Spatial computing will take remote management up a notch, enabling companies to control and manage a broader scope of production line activities from a wider variety of locations.
In that sense, then, spatial computing is a logical step forward for efficiency-hungry industrial companies already on their digital transformation journeys. It’s an opportunity to create a workplace environment just as finely tuned as the processes conducted within it.
Powering value through data engineering
Placing data engineering at the core of everything can advance innovation, improve customer interaction and maximise returns on business transformation investments.
Data is everywhere. But unlocking its potential as a critical business enabler is often hampered. Dispersed, siloed and misaligned individual data solutions hinder efficient reuse and cause long implementation cycles. Meanwhile, business demands put pressure on business leaders to find faster and more economic data-engineered solutions.
Advancing data transformation
To derive insights and drive action, organisations need to constantly evaluate their data. The way to move data transformation forward is to think about business processes, interactions and transactions as information flows. This is imperative for businesses looking to modernise and unlock high volumes of historical, financial, operational and transactional data. However, to reap the rewards of that data, business leaders must have access to first-class enterprise-scale data engineering and analytics services.
Just what can be achieved with the right data engineering services? With the appropriate skills and experience, the potential exists to:
Organisations that lack a high level of data-infused intelligence are unable to scale and capitalise on their analytics and AI efforts; instead, they are trapped in the realm of ad hoc analytics, which is defined by numerous, repeated proof-of-concept exercises and pilot projects with no visible business outcomes.
Unlocking the value in your data
The mere presence of data alone does not equal value – organisations must overcome many challenges to find the potential their data holds. Faced with the data deluge, businesses often struggle with:
Due to the vast increase in data volumes, traditional data warehousing structures lack the necessary scalability and processing capabilities required to extract new value. Business leaders are driven by transformation and competitiveness to improve innovation within the enterprise ecosystem and deliver greater operational efficiency.
When looking to fully capitalise on the insights contained within data, simply recruiting an army of data scientists does not equate to the effective use of analytics. As organisations frequently face the challenges of building the right architecture for data collection, storage and processing, their traditional approach to data engineering must be modernised entirely and transformed.
The heart of data extraction
Each aspect of an enterprise can be improved using data values – they can positively influence businesses and consumers and help achieve objectives. As data continues to grow, the potential for returns on data engineering investment grows with it – with possibilities spanning everything from improving how companies interact with customers to determining where best to push innovation. Those already maximising the use of their data and leading the pack in terms of analytics rely on specialised data engineering service providers (with capabilities of implementing the necessary infrastructure to achieve efficient data pipelines and scalable data lakes that drive effective data analytics).
With data engineering at the core, you can benefit from faster insights, lower costs, greater agility, security, ease of use and interoperability. While shaping your transformation, you’ll create efficiencies and innovation and achieve measurable benefits at every point of the business process.
Attaining data engineering services
Improve your company’s innovation and competitiveness while increasing operational efficiency – from concept to delivery to integration and beyond – with DXC Luxoft. The heart of data extraction starts with implementing data engineering services (i.e. getting results out of data). As businesses (re)build data lakes to capture data from new areas (such as the edge), integrate with traditional MDM, enable self-service data experiences and prepare for compliance with new rules, the corporate data infrastructure remains a building site with a high need to acquire highly skilled data engineering services – but with that high need comes huge potential for organisations.
To discover how DXC Luxoft has helped other Fortune 500 companies be Greater with Data, visit www.luxoft.com
by Lucretia Williams, Global Marketing Director, Luxoft
Conscious customers: a year of change and the UK consumer
As the pace of change continues in the insights industry and beyond, it’s clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has not only changed our lives, but left a permanent imprint on what we value and our everyday behaviours, from how we shop and where we work to what we eat, how we exercise, and beyond.
And in the face of these ongoing changes, we’re continuing to track updates with our Global Barometer – a regular index that taps into Toluna’s community panel of more than 36 million members to provide accurate, timely information on global perceptions in the face of the coronavirus.
Today, we’re delivering key findings from the Wave 16 Global Barometer Study – specifically, findings based on results from 1,083 people surveyed in the UK. From being more money-conscious and health-focused to prioritising family time, here’s a look at what British consumers report feeling, thinking and prioritising 15 months into the pandemic, and where opportunities exist for brands.
Personal finances remain a major concern
With repeated lockdowns, furloughs and job losses, financial security remains top of mind. Consumers are placing increasing importance on being financially aware and responsible in terms of money management and savings to help them through unexpected events.
In the UK specifically, financial consciousness remains, with consumers becoming even more aware of their financial pictures and risks. More than a third of British respondents say they’re less well off now than they were before the pandemic, at 35 per cent, and 38 per cent report being worried about their financial security.
This growing sense of financial responsibility impacts everything from saving and spending, shopping habits, and more. In terms of saving, 41 per cent of people say they plan to save more money to prepare for a rainy day or unexpected events, and 34 per cent have vowed to get better at budgeting. Another 23 per cent report having plans to pay off debts.
Spending time with loved ones is a top priority
As much of the world reopens and vaccines become more readily available, more than a third of Brits said that the biggest change in their lives since March 2020 is the amount of time they now spend with family.
Many went without the option of quality time for months or longer under pandemic-related restrictions, making this one positive, feel-good trend that looks to continue into 2021 and beyond.
Health and wellness are priorities, too
Research shows that British consumers are still heavily focused on personal health and are highly motivated to look after their wellbeing. In fact, 49 per cent report being interested in wellbeing products to improve health, and 38 per cent say they’re looking after their health more by doing things such as taking more vitamins and supplements.
In terms of exercise, despite the reopening of many gyms and fitness centres, 36 per cent of respondents plan to continue exercising outdoors or at home. This indicates a marked change in how UK respondents are keeping fit as a result of Covid.
Some pandemic-induced grocery shopping habits have stuck
Many Covid-related shopping habits are sticking around, and shopping deliveries are among them – 26 per cent of respondents say they now prefer the convenience of having items delivered to their door that started with the pandemic.
In terms of meal prep, 30 per cent say they’ll continue to experiment with food at home and cook homemade meals despite restaurants and cafes being open.
Further, 32 per cent of people report shopping local and choosing independent, smaller grocery brands in support of small businesses and local communities. And more than half of all respondents (58 per cent) also say they’re trying to buy groceries that have less plastic packaging in a push for more sustainable shopping – a value that has risen in importance over the past year.
Consumers support brands that align with their values
Personal values are at the forefront of British consumers’ minds, and 68 per cent of them will go out of their way to connect with brands who they feel share the same moral compass. In the UK 36 per cent of respondents also indicated they’ve actually stopped buying from brands that don’t align with their values.
A resounding 84 per cent of those surveyed believe that brands should be held accountable for their actions, holding them in high regard, with high expectations of how they believe brands should act and what they should do.
You can download the full Wave 16 Global Barometer Study here
by Lucia Juliano, Head of FMCG Research, Toluna
Digital contracting is now make-or-break for businesses
Adoption of contract management software is surging as companies future-proof themselves against continued business disruptions.
If you think about it, contracts are the foundation of commerce. They define every dollar that comes in and out of a company – from an enterprise’s suppliers to its customer relationships to how it manages its IP. As the pandemic raged over the past year, and organisations had to confront broken supply chains and rapidly changing business models and situations, contracts and contract data became a critical tool to respond immediately to new challenges and opportunities – assuming they had access to their contracts and contract data.
Take the example of Cognizant. Prior to 2020, the Fortune 500 IT services company had embarked on a journey to digitise its contracts and contracting process to better track commitments and responsibilities across thousands of clients. After Covid-19 hit, this effort proved invaluable. Cognizant needed a systematic approach and response to disruptions, which it achieved through contract lifecycle management (CLM) – identifying impacted contracts, finding critical clauses, and getting a deep understanding of their obligations and opportunities.
As Frank Marty, senior director of contract risk lifecycle management at Cognizant, put it, CLM “was instrumental in helping our organisation be as calm as we could be as the contingency plan started getting underway.”
Unfortunately, Cognizant’s experience was more the exception than the rule, as many companies lacked digital contracting capabilities.
The extraordinary disruptions caused by the outbreak made it clear that many companies were being held back by the limits of their ability to handle contracts effectively: organisations struggled to respond in real time to uncertainties, and the contracts they needed to execute in order to pivot to new business models got stuck in long approval cycles. At the same time, those contracts failed to bring maximum value due to both ineffective negotiations pre-execution and missed value-recognition post-execution – all this at a time when reducing risk and finding cost savings and revenue opportunities was crucial.
Growing interest in contract lifecycle management
To address these challenges and risks, organisations have followed Cognizant’s lead and turned to contract management technology. Contract lifecycle management (CLM) solutions saw a 40 per cent increase in interest in 2020, according to a leading analyst firm. Clearly, this was due to an increased urgency for a solution that could provide structure for and visibility into enterprise contracts.
And while the path the pandemic will take in the months and years ahead remains uncertain, what is clear is that the imperative for digital contracting capabilities – and the business intelligence those capabilities provide – is here to stay.
Indeed, just as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) in past decades became critical for business success, a robust CLM platform has become a must-have to respond to the accelerating speed of business and increased commercial risks.
A global study by Forrester found that CLM “had gone from being a nice-to-have to critical-to-have.” The research firm found that the C-suite is increasingly relying on contract insights and intelligence to make critical business decisions, and that those with mature contracting processes are leveraging CLM to gain strategic advantage.
“More mature firms treat contracts as the beating heart of their business relationships and they use CLM to connect to core business applications, integrate with transaction systems, and inform key business decisions,” the study found. “These leaders move beyond static analysis and reports on contracts to operating with a dynamic and evolving understanding of the risks, entitlements, and obligations in their contract portfolios.”
Because the impact of contracts spans the organisation, the benefits of an advanced CLM solution extend well beyond contract processes themselves. Armed with the breadth and depth of data gained from the right CLM, business leaders can act with confidence that they are managing risk and the bottom line. Having real-time comprehensive access to their full portfolio of contract information, leaders can be more agile in the face of rapidly changing market conditions.
Turning contract information into strategic advantage
Icertis doesn’t see contracts as mere problems to be solved, but as opportunities for strategic advantage. The Icertis Contract Intelligence (ICI) platform empowers organisations to respond to new opportunities faster, improve revenue, automate compliance and reduce risk, and gain complete visibility – and deep insights – into contracts anytime and from anywhere. With ICI, companies across sectors have reduced contract cycle times by up to 92 per cent, reduced contract administration costs by up to 50 per cent, and improved compliance by up to 94 per cent.
One customer, HERE Technologies, a Netherlands-based mapping and location data company, leveraged the ICI platform’s AI capabilities to discover hidden insights across its large body of sales agreements. The company digitised 70,000 legacy contracts using the OCR and AI embedded in its Icertis solution. HERE was able to quickly extract all relevant information that delivered insights into past customer interactions. This enabled the sales team to close bigger and better deals through renewals, upselling and cross-selling.
When selecting a CLM platform, it is also important to see its standing among leading analyst firms. Named a leader by both Gartner and Forrester, Icertis belongs on every shortlist of CLM vendors. Our strong performance in these and other analyst rankings is driven by two factors: our industry-leading approach to contract technology and unmatched ecosystem of partners.
Icertis takes an open-API approach to its platform, allowing it to seamlessly integrate with leading business applications such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, Office 365, Microsoft Teams, SAP Ariba and Salesforce CRM, among others. The integrations provide businesses with easy access to critical information, enabling better decisions right within the enterprise application environment of their choice without losing productivity by switching software. This means that contracts can be understood in the context of the systems they power – ensuring the purpose of every agreement is fully realised.
The incredible flexibility of the platform has led to strong partnerships with both technology companies that integrate with ICI (Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce, etc.) and systems integrators that work with our shared clients to deliver dedicated CLM expertise and maximise the value of their CLM deployments (Accenture, Deloitte, PwC, and others).
Recently, Peter Martin, Director, Global Partner Development at Microsoft, reflected on why CLM is must-have technology, and why Icertis is the must-have CLM: “As a strategic global Microsoft partner, Icertis has delivered advanced contract management capabilities on the Microsoft cloud and been recognised as the category leader by Gartner and Forrester. Further, Icertis was awarded with the 2021 Microsoft Partner of the Year for Azure AI. Combining category-leading solutions with global delivery as a partner will further mature CLM and deliver previously unrealised benefits to our customers.”
Transform the foundation of commerce with Icertis
As companies prepare for post-pandemic growth, an advanced, future-proof CLM strategy must be a priority. Contracts are the foundation of commerce, and CLM has the potential to transform the foundation of commerce so your organisation can move faster, realise value, and drive compliance.
Companies with mature contract processes and robust technology are already reaping the benefits of CLM; those who aren’t, are at serious risk of falling behind.
To learn more about CLM’s emergence as a must-have technology, we invite you to access this complimentary report from Forrester: Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM): From Nice-To-Have To Mission-Critical
by Paul Gleeson, Senior Vice President, Global Alliances, Icertis
Bug bounty programmes made easy
At Business Reporter, we publish a website about cyber-security, teiss.co.uk (take a look: everyone needs cyber-security). Needless to say, hackers are constantly trying to break it!
Keeping Business Reporter and teiss safe is important. We don’t want people publishing unauthorised content or hackers stealing the contact details of our subscribers.
However, as for any small business, it is very hard to find the time and resources needed to keep it secure. New weaknesses of popular publishing platforms such as WordPress (which we use) are always coming to light. It’s hard to keep up, and we can never be totally sure that we have found all the potential bugs or security weaknesses.
Then we came across bug-bounty.com and realised that tracking down bugs in our systems would be less troublesome than we first thought.
What is a bug bounty?
Bug bounty programmes offer rewards to ethical hackers who discover bugs or security weaknesses. They are often run by big software publishers such as Microsoft so they can fix these issues before they’re discovered and exploited by the bad guys.
Companies often hire a team to test the security of their website or system before deployment. But what happens when new features or updates are pushed? What about the bugs or weaknesses that these teams miss?
This is why it makes sense to sign up to a bug bounty programme to ensure the system gets tested by a vast range of freelance security experts, not just one team. Bug bounty programmes also ensure that the system is always being tested, not just at one point in time. This ensures bugs introduced by new features or updates get caught and fixed before they get exploited by black-hat hackers.
What are ethical hackers?
An ethical hacker is a security expert skilled in testing the security of websites, mobile apps and IT systems to identify bugs and vulnerabilities. These professional bounty hunters employ the same techniques used by black-hat hackers, but do so legitimately with the permission of the owner. This helps identify and resolve any vulnerabilities before they are found by hackers who are rather less ethical.
Many companies attempt to run their own bug bounty programmes, but finding and managing a team of freelance hackers isn’t simple. Are they ethical? Are they skilled? Will they be bothered to work for you? And are the bugs that they uncover genuine problems?
This is why even huge companies like Amazon do not run their own bug bounty programmes in-house, choosing to run them through a bug bounty platform. However, these bug bounty platforms are very expensive to start with as they are geared towards such big companies. And that’s where bug-bounty.com comes in.
How does the bug bounty service work?
The bug-bounty.com service is aimed at small and medium-sized businesses such as Business Reporter, that don’t have the time, budget or resources to build and maintain their own ethical hacking teams. Their service gives companies such as ours access to a large number of experts who can probe our defences and look for vulnerabilities.
We pay a small monthly fee, with no set-up costs, and the hackers are rewarded when they discover a new bug. More on how they are rewarded in a moment.
bug-bounty.com also employs its own team of ethical hackers to review and validate the submitted bugs, and only forward valid problems to us. If the bug isn’t real, or if it has already been fixed by a software update, we don’t get notified because it isn’t going to affect us.
Are bug bounties dangerous?
Not at all! Giving security freelancers free rein of your systems may seem counterintuitive or even risky at first, but these skilled ethical hackers work with your permission and within pre-agreed constraints and conditions. For example, the freelance hackers will be contractually obliged not to keep any sensitive customer data that they might uncover.
It’s important to keep in mind that you are not giving these ethical hackers any advantage over other internet users. All you are doing is agreeing with them that if they find a hole in your defences, they won’t exploit it, and you will reward them for telling you about it.
Do small companies really need a bug bounty?
Every organisation needs this type of service. Like many smaller companies, we use standard software provided by major companies. Most of the time, that software is going to be relatively secure if it’s set up securely. However, a lot of major data breaches are caused by oversights and misconfigurations.
Working with bug-bounty.com means that even if we haven’t set up our systems 100 per cent perfectly, we’re limiting our risk of a data breach by ensuring our systems are regularly tested by experts. As mentioned earlier it also ensures that new updates and new features are tested.
What do the ethical hackers get out of this?
Freelance ethical hackers have a variety of motives. Some simply enjoy searching for bugs, while others do it for the money. Google paid out £5 million in total to ethical hackers last year, with the largest single reward being about £100,000.
That’s a lot of money – more than we can afford. But with bug-bounty.com, it’s up to us how much compensation we offer. Too little, of course, and most security experts won’t bother to help us, but it needn’t be expensive. Many freelance ethical hackers are building a career and finding a bug that is validated as genuine adds to their CV.
Instead of paying out a small monetary reward for finding a bug, some companies may prefer to pay with “points” that are displayed on a leaderboard. This method of gamification encourages competition among bounty hunters, leading to even more vulnerabilities being found.
The bottom line
Why did we sign up for this service? Simple. We are warned about genuine vulnerabilities in our IT systems. Each bug we are notified about has been validated by professionals, so there are no false alarms to waste our time. In addition, it doesn’t cost the earth. We just pay a small monthly fee plus a little extra each time a serious bug is found.
To find out more about how the service works and sign up, contact Bug Bounty.
Factories of the future: we’re spending heavily to give workers skills they won’t need by 2030
“This government is obsessed with skilling up our population,” said Boris Johnson in his recent speech on “levelling up”. There is still a fair amount of uncertainty about exactly what the UK prime minister’s plan to level up the regions will involve, but manufacturing and skills seem close to the heart of it.
The government is trying to achieve a renaissance in vocational education with its industry-focused T-level courses for students, “Skills Bootcamp” retraining programmes for adults, and increased funding for further education in general. Together with the recent announcement of a new Nissan “mega-factory” in Sunderland, some might argue that the UK is finally becoming a high-skill vocational manufacturing economy to rival Germany and Japan.
Unfortunately, the world is moving on. In the factories of the future, the role of skills will be dramatically different. We are in the early stages of what is known as industry 4.0: digital manufacturing that attempts to automate and regulate every aspect of production, including the human. There is little sign that the UK government is thinking about this, or what it means for the youngsters looking to work in manufacturing in future.
How factories are going digital
In a three-year study, I found that learning in factories is fundamentally shifting from human workers to machines. In high-tech manufacturing, machines are being connected to one another in what is often referred to as the internet of things – using sensors to gather information and send signals back to the production process. In the study, we refer to factories and even products becoming “chatty” through all this communication of information, and predict that this will lead to profound changes in manufacturing by 2030.
Airbus is a good example. It has considerably improved the efficiency of the assembly lines for aircraft and helicopters by gathering information and continually feeding it back. Along with other aircraft manufacturers it also carries this approach into the product, using data from aircraft in the field to find ways to improve the next generation.
Increasingly, such systems will optimise themselves using machine learning with a view to maximising sales and profits. In a break from the age-old system of human manufacturers deciding what to produce in response to what consumers want, machines are starting to play a role in these decisions, taking on a life of their own.
Humans will increasingly be used in factories mainly to train robots and AI (artificial intelligence). Robots are being developed that can observe what humans do and learn from it, replicating simple movements and patterns. Such technologies are still very limited, even in advanced manufacturing, but this will soon change.
Once learned, of course, these human skills will no longer be necessary. Workers will find that their ability to teach or at least work around robots and AI will become the most valued component of their skill base. Some employers are already emphasising the need for workers to use their shop-floor skills differently to make what they do “machine readable” for AI.
Finally, the same technologies that allow social media companies to build up a picture of their users will allow manufacturers to not only monitor and simulate their workers but to build up a global picture of work and skill in general.
Digital companies are forming “skills clouds” in which they build up an electronic library of ideal employee profiles in different industries that can be used in recruitment and training. This might be used to choose job applicants based on to what extent they fit these ideal profiles, for example. Skills clouds are already being used by recruitment agencies such as Workday in allocating workers to manufacturing and logistics jobs.
Levelling up who?
Apprenticeships and vocational qualifications used to be a route to a reasonably secure factory job – even in a nation like the UK that has lost so much of its manufacturing capability over the years. But with industry 4.0 the picture looks far less certain, at least in the years after 2030.
Of course, there will still be opportunities for workers who can work with the new technology – “robot wranglers” as they’re being described. New jobs may be created in these areas, and those who are able to fit the criteria stored in skills clouds may be able to fill them.
However, digitising and automating manufacturing may reinforce a dual skills market that prizes (a small number of) high-level technical skills, while everything else ends up being done by machines. It appears that the factory and its associated infrastructure will be levelling up rather than the workers.
The worry is that the UK government is not talking about this, and seems to be developing a strategy that is naïve to it. The golden age of manufacturing and vocational skill no longer exists, if it ever did: the next shifts are about anti-human technologies and organisational forms rapidly depreciating human skills.
This raises complex questions about what kind of society we want, which can’t necessarily be answered easily. At the very least, any discussion about levelling up needs to anticipate the future and factor it into the plan.
One point to make is that for all the talk of levelling up and working-class jobs, a missing component is the voice of the workers. Governments and opposition parties may not like it, but if factories are going to “level down” skills, some form of collective ownership or at least social partnership is necessary to ensure that human skills and employment are secured – perhaps by limiting the extent to which AI and robotics are used in production.
Unions, social movements and workers’ cooperatives have a role to play in this. We need to face what is coming and start thinking about how we respond to it – in ten short years, it may be too late.