January 2014 Archives

IT services firm ITC Infotech on data analytics in retail

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Retail is one of the sectors that could benefit the most from data analytics technologies. Many are outsourcing this activity as getting the experts on-board is costly and takes time.

Here is a guest blog from Hardeep Singh Garewal, president European operations at Indian IT services specialist ITC Infotech. He explains how technology can help retailers gather and analyse customer data to help them improve the customer experience.

He talks about Customer Experience Management (CX) as being a new frontier in Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

Fear of losing customers will drive aggressive investment in technology

By Hardeep Singh Garewal

"One of the biggest challenges that retailers will face in 2014 is the fear of losing their customers, as well as winning new ones, in a very competitive business environment. To address these challenges more and more companies will make aggressive investments in technology to gather intelligence about the buying trends and experiences of their customers. The most exciting area of growth is expected to be the use of data analytics as companies try to understand real time consumer buying patterns and behaviours. In the wake of recent store closures, processes like Real Time Data Analytics and Single View of Customer will highlight what drives customer loyalty and enable retailers to provide a tailored shopping experience to ensure customer retention.

As Christmas trading figures have come in, companies are being faced with the harsh realities that they may have huge blind spots in their knowledge about where their target customers are purchasing, whether their experiences are reinforcing their franchise or are negative, and hence depleting their loyalty. This valuable information is proving to be the difference between a prosperous festive period and becoming the latest in a string of high street failures. In an age of increased mobile activity, spawned by the proliferation of social media, news of a negative shopping experience can become viral almost immediately and have serious consequences. A 'customer-centric' strategy has, therefore, never been more critical. The online retailers are becoming winners not just through price, but because they have a better understanding of their customers.

In the current economic uncertainty and with companies struggling to convince consumers to purchase their goods and services, Customer Experience Management (CX), the new frontier in Customer Relationship Management (CRM), has become a key weapon in the retailer's arsenal. Retaining and selling to existing customers is far easier than attracting new ones therefore deep, targeted customer engagement has now become a necessity. Appreciating that the contemporary business landscape is characterised by hyper competition for a finite customer base, organisations are becoming ever more reliant on the need to engage positively with their customers.

Large swathes of retailers' customers are unknown to them, in some cases, up to 85%. In many cases, companies have little knowledge of customer purchasing decisions. Customer Experience Management helps to provide a strategic framework that retailers can use to gain business insights from multichannel data.  These insights enable companies to improve profits and customer satisfaction. Retailers need to be equipped to handle an abundance of data from overlapping sources such as mobile, social, in-store and e-commerce sites and then leverage this data for enhancing their customer's shopping experience.

CX provides retailers with a clear roadmap that closely links technology, strategy and capabilities. Retailers will come to rely on technology partners who possess deep domain expertise in the retail sector and also possess technical skills that can leverage existing technology or deploy new tools. These tools will include cutting edge analytical data to meet business goals and allow them to respond quickly to trends and user behaviour. Companies can now track orders, analyse website navigation, view shopping chart usage and gather knowledge of other kinds of online or digital activity - all in real time.

Customer insights are the key to growth for companies around the world. An effective Customer Experience Management strategy can help retailers generate customer insights and use this information for designing and implementing pinpointed sales campaigns.
Retailers need to access with speed what their customers are doing across a portfolio of platforms. To stay current, retail businesses need an integrated approach combining physical stores, mobile devices, and desktop computers, to create a seamless customer experience in a multichannel environment.

Consumers expect all their interactions with a retailer (irrespective of which channel they use) to reflect a consistent understanding of their history and preferences. As much as they enjoy being able to access their favourite brands through multiple channels, customers want a consistent experience mobile, online and in-store. If the purchase experience is not seamless across channels, retailers will lose loyal customers to hungry competitors, resulting in declining brand value and revenue. They have to implement integrated processes to maintain a positive customer experience while dealing with the task of improving operational efficiency. Speed and real time data analytics are going to be hugely valuable for companies as they try to understand their customers."

Infosys leader reports from Davos

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I am pleased once again BG Srinivas, now president at Infosys and tipped to be the next CEO by many, has supplied a blog post from this years World Economic Forum in Davos. In this post BG talks about how technology engenders social progress.

I hope for more from the Infosys team in Davos.

How Technology Helps Social Progress

By B.G. Srinivas

"There's a social scientist and historian who wrote a groundbreaking book, a number of years ago, that studied the history of plagues and diseases. Before he looked at human history in such a way, no one had ever really considered how microorganisms like germs - and not armies and political movements - could cause great empires to rise and fall.

In that same regard, people are often surprised when they learn that certain items they take for granted today - such as cotton garments - did more to prevent the spread of disease when humans began weaving and wearing them on a global scale. A phenomenon like the invention of germ-fighting cotton garments seems quaint today. But as an important innovation of its era, it saved thousands of people from various medical conditions. In our own times, certain technology-led innovations might seem like sci-fi, and yet these may just be realized by sophisticated software or computers whose servers are in the cloud. And these accomplishments will have a direct effect on peoples' lives.
I'm in Davos, Switzerland for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. The slogan at the WEF has always been "Committed to Improving the State of the World." It's no wonder, then, that a lot of what we talk about at Davos involves how technology can be the instrument of social progress. Consider, for example, the nano-patch. Ask anyone who once smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and is now smoke-free because of the nicotine patch.

Nano-patch technology is truly profound. According to a medical report I recently read, nano-patch technology also has a play in the painless transfer of vaccines into the body. Better still is that these patches don't need to be refrigerated. That's a huge advantage in some parts of the developing world where long-term refrigeration is an ongoing challenge. But the technology also comes in handy because it's painless. Now take those two factors - lack of a particular convenience and ease of distribution - and you have a recipe for medical microchips that will someday be implanted in people on a colossal scale.  When that happens, a doctor can monitor a patient's information without even being in the same examination room, much less sticking that person with painful needles. Plus, the microchips can be tied into global databases that exist on cloud-based servers. The movement of diseases and pandemics will be anticipated because of the massive amounts of health information streaming into those servers from patients around the world. Indeed, there's no doubting that tomorrow's doctors will find information to be as potent a tool against disease as they do vaccines today.

To me, that is a tale that clearly demonstrates "Committed to Improving the State of the World."


Could back office outsourcing at Post Office spell end to troublesome Horizon system?

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The Post Office is looking for suppliers to provide it with IT services worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

This includes back-office IT applications.

Could this see the organisation look again at the Horizon accounting system used by sub-postmasters. The Horizon system, which was developed by ICL/Fujitsu Services, is used by thousands of sub-postmasters. It has been blamed by many for sub-postmasters being wrongly charged and even jailed for accounting shortfalls. Others have had to make up cash discrepancies following prosecutions.

Despite years of allegations that the Horizon system is at fault for many accounting shortfalls, the Post Office has unrelentingly defended it. However it recently admitted that it had to look more closely at individual sub-postmaster cases.

Could this be the time for the Post Office to get rid of the system?

Read a timeline of articles on the subject from Computer Weekly:

May 2009 - Bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods - Postmasters tell their story

September 2009 - Post-masters form action group after accounts shortfall

November 2009 - Post Office theft case deferred over IT questions

February 2011 - Post Office faces legal action over alleged accounting system failures

October 2011 - 85 sub-postmasters seek legal support in claims against Post Office computer system

June 2012 - Post Office launches external review of system at centre of legal disputes Post Office launches external review of system at centre of legal disputes

January 2013 - Post Office admits that Horizon system needs more investigation

January 2013 - Post Office announces amnesty for Horizon evidence

January 2013 - Post Office wants to get to bottom of IT system allegations

June 2013 - Investigation into Post Office accounting system to drill down on strongest cases

July 2013 - Post Office Horizon system investigation reveals concerns

October 2013 - End in sight for sub-postmaster claims against Post Office's Horizon accounting system

October 2013 What compensation do you pay a subpostmaster that has been in jail as a result of computer error?

Banks should never use the cloud

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I have been working on a feature today and going through my interviews have found some interesting stuff.

This one comes from an unnamed source within banking IT. This is what he said when asked about the cloud's role in banking.

"None at all hopefully. The cloud is a giant security and reliability disaster waiting to happen. Banks should keep their systems safely locked away in their own data centres and do all they can to protect the infrastructure and physical security. I hope the cloud is only used for holiday snaps and music. Banks should not go there. We have to remember there are bad guys out there trying to crack into these systems millions of times a day around the world. And they only have to get it right once to cause a major disaster! I would not bank with a firm using the cloud to operate my account or hold my details."

So that's pretty clear then.

I recently wrote this article after an event about the cloud in banking: Is cloud computing almost too good to be true for banks?.

Has outsourcing contributed to banking IT problems?

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The IT problems suffered by RBS recently have highlighted the task facing banks that want to modernise.

I spoke to one senior IT professional within a major UK bank and although he acknowledged that systems need to be upgraded the actual problems that are occurring are the result of increased IT outsourcing/offshoring.

This is what he said.

"Most of the issues I've seen have been due to human error, equipment failure or in recent years errors made by outsourced firms who are more distant than they were historically. More work has gone abroad as a result of cost pressure and that has led to a drop in standards across the industry. Outsourcing and offshoring development didn't hurt production but now that more production support is both offshore and outsourced, the scope for live problems is much higher than a few years ago. All too often human error by a junior person at a 3rd party somewhere half way round the world who did not understand or follow a process properly."

I am currently putting together an analysis on the subject so if you have any views let me know.

DWP IT project needs immigrants but government doesn't

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Interesting story about the DWP's Universal Credit IT project today.

The IT project underpinning the Universal Credit is troubled to say the least. The government made a fanfare of how it was to digital and agile methods to develop the system.

But it seems the government's decision to reduce immigration is harming its ability to do the project due to a skills shortage.

Years of outsourcing has left the DWP short of in-house skills. Now with demand up across business and government sectors, salaries for people with these skills have gone up.

"There are, simply, more jobs available in digital and software development than people to do them," Harry Gooding, head of client engagement at recruitment consultancy Mortimer Spinks, told Computer Weekly.

"As a result, the average permanent salary has gone from £44,000 per annum to £52,000 - this is quite simply a supply and demand thing."

The government's immigration policy is magnifying this.

"David Cameron's immigration policies mean we are no longer getting the same wave of immigrants coming to do the IT jobs we have available. It used to be that a third to a half of all the jobs we recruited were filled by English-speaking people from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa who were excellent developers. There is no longer the same incentive for them to fight their way into this country - which is what it now takes - and work here," Spinks told Computer weekly.

"Meanwhile, there are very few people coming out of our education systems suitable qualifications, but there is a huge influx of technology businesses looking for those skills."

Well the government could always outsource the project to a global IT service provider who could bring in staff from any of its locations across the world without the need for a visa, using Intra Company Transfers (ICTs). That would be interesting if the government used this loophole to get around its own policy. Not likely given the fact that the government wants to use IT services firms as little as possible on this project.

Through controversial ICTs IT service providers can bring staff to the UK from any of its overseas locations.

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Mid-market IT outsourcing to increase, 2014 predictions

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Here is another set of predictions for 2014 from the services industry. These come from Alastair Kitching, sales and marketing director at IT managed service provider Esteem Systems.

Also read: IT supplier predictions for 2014, including Bring your own wearables
and Can corporates COPE with BYOD in 2014?

Cloud computing and Mid-Market Growth

By Alastair Kitching

"The past 12 months have seen growth in the mid-market sector for IT Outsourcing, and I expect that to continue during 2014. The development of this market over the past few years has been connected to the emergence of the heavily marketed term 'cloud', which prompted many organisations to think differently about traditional in-house IT, and led them to the concept of IT as a service. This concept sees an increasing number of organisations hand over the responsibility of their IT to a service provider, either as a Managed Service or complete Outsource, where any number of 'cloud' technologies and delivery models can be used.

Outsourcing in the mid-market sector will continue to be an increasingly desirable prospect for businesses over the next year, particularly as the economy picks up and organisations want agility and flexibility from their IT, while at the same time to keep costs to a minimum. The increasing complexity of IT also continues to make it difficult for mid-market businesses to retain skills in house, making IT Outsourcing a sustainable solution to having access to a diverse range of expertise.

I also expect to see development in IT Outsourcing with Fast Growth businesses during 2014. At Esteem Systems we are seeing an increasing number of rapidly growing organisations turning to IT Outsourcing as a way of freeing up in-house time to focus on core business strategy. More and more organisations are questioning the cost and time implications of managing their own IT Estate, particularly as they become increasingly reliant on the performance and capability of their IT infrastructure. As well as being able to focus more on business growth, developing a long term partnership with an outsourcing provider will continue to benefit growing businesses by ensuring that their IT can perform and adapt to support business objectives and the business size.

Another area of growth for IT Outsourcing in 2014 will be Selective Outsourcing. Selective Outsourcing has emerged as a popular solution for medium to large organisations in both the commercial and public sector. These organisations prefer to engage multiple partners for different applications and IT services, rather than engaging with one large traditional outsourcer, as they are attracted by the more flexible and competitive environment that it creates.

As a result of these areas of growth, at Esteem Systems there has been a change in demand for a flexible approach to IT Outsourcing. An increasing number of businesses are looking for bespoke services to fit directly with their business needs. In an increasingly competitive market, this will require IT Outsourcing providers to be more flexible in their service offering moving forward. IT Outsourcing Providers must now think innovatively about what services can be developed for businesses, and what 'cloud' services best fit as part of an IT Outsourcing agreement."

Can corporates COPE with BYOD in 2014?

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Back in December I asked for IT predictions for 2014. I have had a few in and as promised will publish them.

On Friday I grouped a few into a single post here.

Today's predictions come from Brother's UK managing director  Phil Jones.

"Big data and big insights

Big data is growing exponentially (+31% compound annual growth rate) but the key challenge for 2014 will be getting the big insights. Business intelligence is the number one priority for CIOs. As a result, extracting usable information from data will become key and demand for big data specialists is set to grow by 243% in the next five years.  Specialists offering hosting, analysis and insight under one roof will emerge, taking the headache of big data away from CIO's and CMO's.

The cloud gets bigger

The cloud is set to continue to dominate the landscape and horizon, leading to the continuing decline of on-premise IT solutions. CMOs will become more influential in the shortlisting of technology as IT goes off-premise, requiring a greater spread of contacts in organisations and further democratising of decision making. Demand for 'location independent' products and services will continue to grow as a result.

BYOD gives way to COPE

The concept of 'bring your own device' is well established in the large businesses and enterprises. Device independence will continue to gather pace, and hardware provision in enterprises is shifting to a COPE model (Corporately Owned, Personally Enabled) over BYOD due to security and data issues. Requirements for mobile device management (MDM) will continue to grow along with peripheral requirements and applications.

3D printing grabs headlines, not consumers

While 3D printing has been grabbing headlines for a while, the market is at early lifecycle stage. There's a high degree of technical capability needed in current application software so the consumerisation of the technology in terms of mainstream penetration will evolve. In 2014, vertical markets and specialised bureaus will emerge and develop as the technology goes through the growth curve, which is currently sitting around 60% in CAGR units. The sector is estimated to be worth in excess of €2.5bn by 2017, indicating the importance of this as a future sector.

Roam is the new home

The traditional 9-5 work pattern no longer exists for the majority of people. Now it's all about agile, flexible, mobile working. Print is changing as a result of this. 'Roam' is the new working capital for agile businesses evolving their cultures and working practices.


Technology solutions will be focused on how workflow can be improved and digitised as much as possible. Document production, distribution and management will rise up the strategic list of priorities, focused on end to end lifecycle of processes. Business Process Management (BPM) is high up the agenda of shared services communities and organisations of all sizes looking to do more with less on the drive for productivity."

If you have any predictions please send them.

IT supplier predictions for 2014, including Bring your own wearables

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I have received some predictions for the IT sector in 2014. I asked for predictions in a blog just before Christmas and here are a few I received.

They come from Steve Browell, CTO at Intrinsic Technology, Tim Patrick-Smith, CIO at IT services provider Getronics and Lori Williams, European general manager at cloud services provider Appirio. If you have any predictions please send them and I will publish them.

Steve Browell, CTO at Intrinsic Technology

Smart Organisations

2013 saw the Government launch its Smart Cities initiative, which aims to improve the everyday lives of citizens through smart technology. However, as the UK slowly begins to creep towards economic recovery, 2014 will also herald in the era of the smart organisation. We will see businesses receive support and guidance from the Government on using IT to drive innovation, agility and growth, as businesses become the next technology initiative in the Government's 'Smart' campaign. Whether through the use of mobile device management to empower a more mobile workforce that can use whatever devices it chooses, or intelligent analytics to provide real-time feedback to enable businesses to be more agile, smart organisations will come to the fore and need recognition. With technology spend now transcending the boundaries of the IT department, 2014 will bring a dramatic shift in employee understanding of how IT can drive business change. Smart Organisations will accelerate the pace of change. Smart Organisations are where the new generation want to work.

Bring-your-own-Wearables (BYOW)

We've seen the BYOD phenomenon sweep across organisations of all sizes over the past few years. Expect to see employees bring their own wearable technology in 2014. We will see more use of smart watches and fitness wristbands in the office to boost employee wellbeing and productivity. Adoption will likely increase as organisations realise the staff engagement benefits attached to these devices. As the size of the mobile workforce continues to balloon, wearable devices will deliver new levels of flexibility and keep colleagues connected regardless of location. The provision of collaborative tools and consumer-grade gadgets will become a key differentiator for organisations looking to attract and retain the best talent in 2014.

Hybrid cloud gets real

Perceptions of hybrid as the most sensible deployment model will shift dramatically as a mix of public, private and on-premise IT becomes a real destination for many organisations. 2014 will see increased investment in hybrid as businesses realise that security, control and performance related to public cloud are highly manageable risks and not reasons to not act. Tech-savvy users have already worked this out and have devised personal cloud solutions that leverage local and cloud based applications and data. Corporate IT needs to work this way too. Growth in cloud brokerage technologies and services will continue to rise as organisations look for guidance on solving challenges around interoperability and integration.

Shadow IT

Tech-savvy employees are bringing in a range of different devices and services thick and fast. Next year will see CIOs move from being cautious to accepting, realising the productivity benefits. The IT department will become more collaborative with the wider organisation, seeking regular feedback on devices and services being used to ensure any risks are mitigated and consistent policies are set out. Corporate IT needs to enhance the way it delivers applications and data to provide a flexible workspace for users that is truly device agnostic. Managing that workspace will become paramount so that corporate IT remains agile and the organisation keeps its competitive edge. Understanding the drivers behind employees deploying shadow IT will also help inform better decisions on tech investment.

Unified Communications

For those organisations seeking to become more agile, UC will become a necessity in 2014 - traditional email and phone comms simply won't cut the mustard. Employees are more technically savvy than ever before, so it's the job of the IT department to reduce the complexity of traditional systems and deliver efficient and collaborative ways of working. Staff need to know if a colleague is online, and they need to be able to send them a quick message, or click to call, or click to change the meeting to a video call, and then easily collaborate and bring others into impromptu and planned group meetings. When all this is at an organisation's fingertips then quick decisions can be made and market opportunities exploited. We will also see smart organisations utilise UC both on-premise and through cloud services to boost their customer service ratings across all touchpoints - voice, video, email and social, and to allow all the UC functionality to be available to all staff, wherever they are and regardless of the device they have chosen to use.

Tim Patrick-Smith, CIO at ICT services provider Getronics:

Mobile device management (MDM) becomes workspace management

IT departments will have to learn to cope with end users bringing their personal area networks (PANs) to work with them, as BYOD continues to gain speed. With this in mind, MDM will expand in to the more general workspace management role with solutions aimed at enrolling, managing and securing all of these different end points. Understanding the workplace as a whole rather than as a series of end points will be key to managing IT environments in this internet of everything world.

Increased investment in data security

In the wake of the PRISM scandal, demand for greater transparency in communications will place a burden on maintaining confidentiality and ownership of corporate data. Data security will become increasingly valuable to global business. Therefore, a key trend for next year has to be developments in digital rights management and the capability to protect and secure what can be done with data and documents even whilst outside the direct control of the organisation.

Getting the house in order to reap cloud benefits

Businesses have been looking to reduce costs through virtualisation of their IT systems and the migration of these systems to hosted cloud services. However many of the savings and efficiencies that will stem from this "cloud revolution" have yet to be achieved because they require changes in the core business processes themselves. The cloud merely provides the technology on which these process changes can be delivered to a modern business organisation. The redevelopment of business processes into aggregated and orchestrated cloud processes will be a key development throughout 2014 and beyond.

Lori Williams, European General Manager at cloud services provider Appirio:

Crowdsourcing goes mainstream

The past few years have seen early adopters use the power of the crowd to fuel growth and innovation. 2014 will see crowdsourcing move from niche to mainstream. We will start to see even cautious sectors, such as financial services, experimenting to find the best technical solutions to their business problems. Crowdsourcing will become a key consideration for organisations wanting to move quickly and maintain their competitive edge, and will also revolutionise how we approach talent management. Harnessing an online community gives businesses quick access to on-demand expertise and a wide range of skills they may not be fortunate enough to have within their own organisation. For developers specifically, the crowd is a great way of honing skills as well as marketing themselves to prospective employers.

Employee Engagement driving IT Investments

The way that employees, managers and executives are being serviced today is completely different; they're now provided with information wherever and whenever they need it. As a result, we'll see organisations drive higher productivity and employee satisfaction by using tools from 2013, not 1993. The focus will be on providing content and data through tools and applications that allow employees to be more connected internally, while also providing them with more direct feedback from customers and peers to provide context on how their job impacts the wider business.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2013 is the previous archive.

February 2014 is the next archive.

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