New kids on the blockchain

At Sopra Steria we often talk about a world ‘beyond digital’. This is so that we can help our clients to prepare themselves and their organisations for the challenges they are likely to face looking out three to five years into the future.

I shared some of the topics we have identified for a world beyond digital with an audience of digital and eCommerce professionals at a Thought Leaders of the North West event a couple of weeks ago. Our themes seemed to resonate with those in the room prompting plenty of discussion and debate.

One theme attracting a lot of interest was the ongoing challenge we face in the world of Information Security, where we see protection from attack being built into new products and services from the ground up rather than as an afterthought.

We also see an emerging era of unprecedented corporate responsiveness and agility as industry giants look to iterate their business models ‘on-the-fly’ in response to unforeseen threats and attacks in the way Sony Pictures did recently in immediately releasing ‘The Interview’ to digital channels and abandoning its plans for a full theatrical release.

Disintermediation is another concept having an immediate impact on the way we live, work and do business. Services such as Uber and AirB’n’B are already beginning to transform different aspects of the travel industry through their creative use of the crowd, the cloud and the semantic web.

In financial services we see the ‘blockchain’ threatening to disintermediate the traditional banking industry as Bitcoin continues to gain profile and transacting in such crypto-currencies nudges its way ever closer to the mainstream.

“whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”

It was in this field, at a second technology event I attended recently that I witnessed a tense debate between an established retail bank and an up-and-coming Bitcoin podcaster.

The bank, when talking about FinTech start-ups looking to establish themselves in the emerging global Bitcoin economy, outside of a traditionally regulated banking industry, suggested that “whilst barriers to entry are very low, barriers to mass acceptance remain incredibly high”, which is the kind of thing they used to say in the music industry in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, the power of the ‘blockchain’, the virtual ledger where the crowd validates transactions without the assistance of traditional banking infrastructure and regulation, may actually be found beyond Bitcoin trading, as new and emerging use cases emerge for this technology bring it further into many people’s lives.

One such service which could be leveraged by the blockchain may be that of personal data broking, where citizens take control of the value of their own personal data and begin to firmly negotiate with local and global organisations alike based on the value of their own data as derived from their own connections, online activity and their extended social graph.

Sopra Steria is working with some of the world’s most exciting start-ups in exploring these concepts, as these ‘new kids on the blockchain’ begin to collaborate with us and our clients as, together, we continue to play a vital role in the transformation of business for a world ‘beyond digital’.

We’d love to hear how you think ‘blockchain’ technology will transform our lives. Leave a reply below, contact me by email, tim.difford@soprasteria.com or on Twitter, @timdifford

Photo: used and modified under Creative Commons license thanks to BTCKeychain

The next digital disruption: buying B2B services using social media channels?

Digital Transformation is changing how businesses interact with customers and each other.

In this environment business-to-business (B2B) service providers face the constant threat of “digital disrupters” – new entrants who don’t fundamentally change the underlying product or service but win (or steal?) market share by leveraging new ways to interact with customers/clients and suppliers.

But couldn’t an existing B2B service provider become the digital disrupter by leveraging social media to create a new, differentiated approach to market engagement to deliver sustainable competitive advantage?

Here are some (radical?) ideas…

Customer led innovation: clients could potentially benefit from best practice about digital transformation being shared rapidly from different sectors (for example, the innovative work in UK central government and retail). A service provider could use its social media channel(s) to enable this sharing in an intuitive, dynamic way tailored to specific client needs. Furthermore, the provider could use gamification to incentivise the sharing of insights, advise directly between companies (such as discounting its services for clients providing such support). This would help position the B2B service provider’s brand as a collaborative thought leader in digital transformation.

Deepening personalisation: a provider could engage directly in all the social media activity of a client (at all levels including organisational, team and individual). Although there is a risk of appearing intrusive, it’s a way of building more intimate relationships with existing clients and sourcing new ones. This would also pro-actively complement and enhance other sales and account management approaches it uses.

Intensifying responsiveness: undoubtedly radical and reputationally risky, clients could post their complaints, issues and other feedback directly on a B2B service provider’s social media channels. The value comes from how the provider deals with these issues openly in this public space; a positive opportunity to explicitly demonstrate its strong commitment to quality service delivery.

Buy buttons: underlying these social media channel approaches would be the tools to enable a client to contact a sales representative immediately to purchase the provider’s services. Depending on the agility of the provider, potentially these services could be bought and stood up on the same day – now that’s digital transformation!

If you would like to find out more about how digital transformation can benefit your business, please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Solvency II – a day well spent

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the Insurance ERM conference “Data for ERM & Solvency II“. The focus of the day was firmly on data and its importance in the risk management of insurers, something of a personal hobby horse of mine, now that I’ve spent the last 18 years of my working life on that very topic!

It was particularly pleasing to find that many of the insurers attending the event were looking beyond the regulatory compliance aspects of data management and saw the governance and maintenance of their own data as key to the success of their organisations in the digital age. David Lodge (Allianz) gave an excellent presentation on taking a pragmatic approach to implementing a Data Governance framework. A quote he attributed to his CEO explained that their organisation only had two unique assets “people and data”. It’s worth taking a moment to consider to what extent your business strategy is aligned to leveraging your own unique corporate assets, which I’d argue as a minimum should include those two.

image-exhib-stand
Sopra Steria’s Slaven at Data for ERM & Solvency II 2015

My colleague Slaven (pictured) proved a big hit during the coffee breaks and not only on account of the bowls of Haribo at our table but also his demonstration of our fully featured software solution for the last mile of Pillar 3 – SOLVARA-QRT, which will be used by over 250 insurers to get their Solvency II ducks in a row.

Later in the day I enjoyed the panel discussion with Richard Charlton (Phoenix Group) and Dominic Rau (Swiss Re) who highlighted the challenges of coping with both the variety of data required by an ‘internal model’ and also the subsequent maintenance of robust and detailed documentation of that model.  The “simple” logistics of maintaining and operating an internal model have too often only been considered in Solvency II programmes as an afterthought. The initial rush to implement exciting and exotic new algorithms has understandably been a key focus though, ultimately, the BAU success of an internal model is tied to its usability.

Recently we have helped a number of our clients implement data and knowledge management solutions to ease the headache of model updates and meet the requirements of the ‘use test’.

The conference closed with an insightful presentation delivered by Peter Telford (Legal & General) on the division of data management responsibilities between the first, second and third lines, but not before he’d won our prize draw for an iPad Air 2!

Thanks to all at Insurance ERM for organising a very entertaining and informative conference on what can be something of a dry topic.

What are your thoughts about data and its importance in the risk management of insurers? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Changing the conversation from Big Data to insight advantage

With Big Data once again we in the IT industry are falling into the same old trap of talking about inputs (volume, velocity, variety and veracity) and technology (Hadoop, Spark) rather than the desired outcomes. No wonder then that analyst groups are reporting that only a tiny fraction of Big Data proofs of concept are being industrialised and put into production.

On one level this is understandable – talking about outcomes can seem a little dry.  Highlighting the potential for revenue gains or cost savings or reducing risk (of future costs or revenue losses); or indeed the underlying elements – such as operational excellence or an enhanced customer experience – that will deliver those financial gains can seem as if the same old story is being recycled. Consequently it is much more exciting to talk about what is new, which is why the technology always seems so exciting.

But this time there is a difference. We live in the information age and work in the knowledge economy. Insight is the lubricant of both and the most sustainable advantage any business can have is better insight than its competitors. And by better I mean in breadth, depth, accuracy and timeliness.

The good thing about Big Data is that data – the raw material for insight – is in vogue when for ages it has just been seen as digital exhaust. But to make the most of the transformational opportunity that is available, we need to steer the conversation away from Big Data to what it enables, strategically. We need to use the excitement about unstructured data and the internet of things to seed the concept of insight advantage in commercial consciousness.

I believe there are six steps to achieving insight advantage. Read my article outlining those steps – the first in a series of pieces that will be published over the next couple of months.

#InsightAdvantage

IoE: the ultimate digital transformation benefits accelerator?

IoE – Internet of Everything (a term defined by Cisco) – is where networked sensors, data, processes and people combine to replicate the five human senses to deliver customer and business services intelligently. It’s an exciting approach to digital transformation that has already delivered some fantastic outcomes – like heating fuel efficiency, telematics-driven car insurance and smarter cities.

But what is the potential for IoE as a tool to measure the tangible and intangible benefits of digital transformation across on-line and off-line sales channels – simultaneously, instantly – to deliver competitive advantage?

Digital transformation approaches, such as the user-centric Agile design of on-line sales channels, have already radically disrupted traditional methods of benefits realisation like payback, where value is based on the forecast time it takes a proposed change to recover the costs of its investment. This is because Agile applies continuous user feedback to drive the rapid, iterative improvement of a product or service. Consequently, an outcome such as payback may be realised quickly and cumulatively over a series of releases rather than as a long-term fixed event.

Furthermore, this approach enables the explicit linking of hard financial outcomes like payback to soft, intangible benefits like the intrinsic value of a personalised user experience. This is because these enhancements successfully deliver increased sales revenue by responding effectively to individual customer needs based on a range of instantly available data like user testing, marketing feedback and social media trends.

A key factor in the success of this approach is that an on-line sales channel is a highly controllable environment versus other channels like stores or call centres – all customers have to engage through the same small number of portals (or platforms) making the process of collecting data and responding personally less problematic than these off-line channels that require individual physical interactions in different, variable environments.

However, IoE could provide the tools to simultaneously, instantly measure the off-line customer or employee experience in ways that are comparable, aligned to on-line channel measurements. This (big?) data would then drive the user-centric Agile design of a truly seamless, responsive onmichannel experience (and consequently enable the acceleration of linked hard and soft digital transformation benefits).   Here are some ideas…

  • Sight: is customer in-store browsing (across potentially hundreds of locations) materially different to on-line behaviour during the same day? What benefits are realised when retail stores implement rapid changes to their physical layouts that match on-line channel enhancements simultaneously?
  • Hearing: how are thousands of customers reacting in store and on the phone about a product that’s receiving adverse social media reaction that started trending an hour ago? Does it align to on-line feedback? Can this collective insight be used to enable the right social media response across all channels to defuse the issue?
  • Taste: does a food product taste the same across hundreds of stores in a given day? What is the variation of quality of this product when it’s provisioned by different suppliers across different geographies? How can this real-time quality data drive consistent performance and the right pricing from multiple suppliers?
  • Touch: what impact does local temperature have on customer mood and employee sales activity? If there is a change in the weather should employees in stores or call centres be immediately directed to behave differently to help personalise off-line customer engagement? How could this also inform enhancements to the on-line user experience at the same time?
  • Smell: do all stores “smell” the same during the same day? How does this environmental factor impact customer behaviour? Is there a way of connecting/associating products with “positive” smells with the on-line user experience (for example, the use of colours that may carry the same connotations)?

If you would like to find out more about how Digital Transformation can benefit your business please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Digital 2030: user controlled contextualisation?

Contextualisation – the art of successfully blending positioning, relationship and emotional data together to deliver a unique, personalised user experience across all channels – is expected to be a key differentiator for many companies in 2015. But what might contextualisation be like for users in 2030?

In 2030 I don’t have a smartphone – miniaturisation means all information I need (and control) is transmitted straight into my digital contact lenses (the ultimate wearable?) and micro headphones implanted in my ears.  My own personal drone provides me digital connections around the world including a secure continuous link to my cloud AI – my guide, advisor and friend throughout any customer journey.

In 2030 I shape my physical environment using augmented AND virtual reality together – if I want to make a call I use my virtual phone; likewise I can project any content I want on to any surface and share it with friends and other people in any size or resolution. The physical and data worlds are combined and I am completely in control using my cloud AI to make my life as simple as possible and protect me from real or cyber threats.

In 2030 I use contextualisation to add layers on to my customer experience – when I go shopping my cloud AI has already scanned all relevant data sources (including my own mood and friends’ social feeds) to tell me what’s hot or not in my specific location. I can also heat-map previous visits on to the physical space to see what has interested me and my friends before. If the shop doesn’t have what I want I can create a virtual prototype of the product right in front of the retail staff (with help from my AI) to help them visualise and fulfil my needs.  And of course, I don’t take any goods home with me: paid-for digital assets are stored on my cloud AI and created at home instantly on my own 3D printer.

My entire customer experience is powered by location, transactional and social data that I apply in ANY space to create my personalised, unique experience – ‘user controlled contextualisation’.

So what could this digital dream mean for business?

Marketing serves (rather than influences) individual users – to be successful, marketing differentiates itself in terms of the services it can provide users to enable them to tell their own contextualised data powered stories

Retail Spaces could be located anywhere (physical or virtual) – staff will be fully mobilised to move to areas of high user demand as required or could be outsourced anywhere in the world

A complete re-focusing of the supply chain – suppliers will have to radically re-organise their value chain and operating model to enable individuals to manufacture their products on personal demand

Software as a service is king – products and services are developed, marketed and sold primarily as soft digital assets all driven by software/SOA that can adapt instantly to any platform of the individual user’s choosing

Telecommunications become cyber security service providers  – because individuals are managing their own personal data communications across networks they are at constant risk of direct attack. Consequently, telco companies are continually, and fiercely, innovating their security capabilities (including drone services) to protect users

Pure fantasy? Let me know what you think…

Why digital transformation? My current three key questions – what are yours?

i) What things CAN’T your customers or employees do on their own mobiles to use or serve your products and services?

ii) Do you have one application that gives your employees all the RIGHT information about the relationship you have with a specific customer or client?

iii) Is there is one area of your business (no matter how small or large) that if improved to WORK SMARTER could deliver big benefits quickly for customers and/or employees?

Answering one or more of these questions can help a client find the critical pain points that could be addressed using new ways of working supported by digital technology – the power of digital transformation!

Let me know your top three…