24th January 2020
Thank you to all who attended the ‘Digital Transformation – Choosing the right tech’ event with Enhanced and Fireworx. We hope you found the event useful and thought-provoking. If you missed the event, then here’s a summary of the evening:
During our event we looked at what we feel are the fad and the ‘potential’ future in this consistently evolving world of digital technology reviewing if your business really needs to invest in things such as; Artificial Intelligence, Chat Bots, Voice Search, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality. While looking at practical uses for SME’s in using Microsoft solutions to improve business efficiencies.
We frequently quote Tom Goodwin, author of Digital Darwinism, available as a 15 minute overview on Blinkist if you check out the very handy app. And one of the foremost thinkers on the subject.
Tom’s article, ‘The killer questions to ask before beginning a digital transformation’, tackles one of the core issues relating to the words ‘Digital Transformation’, that most companies are making token gestures of ‘digitalisation’ and simply papering over the cracks of much deeper issues that an app that allows you to scan a cheque simply won’t solve in the long-term.
This theme about paying lip service to digital transformation is the crux of Tom’s article…
“For me, there is a key distinction between digitalisation and digital transformation. Digitalisation is taking existing processes, existing business models, existing systems and applying new technology and new thinking like oil to them. Digitalisation is adding video phone kiosks to car rental pick-up locations, it’s a grocery store using pickers at night to fulfil e-commence orders, it’s a bank building an app to let you scan checks to pay into your accounts.”
Tom goes on to say…
“If we can see an Uber’s location in real time, we don’t accept a four-hour window for a repair person. If we’ve never waited online to pay for items, we won’t accept queues in-store.”
The point Tom ends up making causes us to question if everyone is overlooking a crucial aspect of a successful Digital Transformation project – people. Without the right strategists cutting through the noise, truly understanding the value your business provides customers and being able to forecast shifts in the market driven by changing behaviours you’re always going to be behind the eight-ball.
So what is the summary – Think about how you can improve the way you engage with customers
Ask yourself – how will this new thing help us engage customers or interact with them in a way that’s tangibly better?
• Understand customer context
• Look at the customer journeys and hotspots – Help you identify the best technology to use
• Can you apply technology to your existing journeys?
• Think of businesses outside of your sector and how they engage with people – could you implement their processes?
For those who want to spend an hour diving int this and more click here to book your tickets but for those that can’t make it here’s a little more info on some of the technology we’ll be reviewing:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Colloquially, the term “artificial intelligence” is often used to describe machines (or computers) that mimic “cognitive” functions that humans associate with the human mind, such as “learning” and “problem solving”.
Allot of people used to associate AI with Terminator, or Hal from 2001. While Hollywood movies and science fiction novels depict AI as human-like robots that take over the world, the current evolution of AI technologies isn’t that scary – or quite that smart. Instead, AI has evolved to provide many specific benefits in every industry, it’s seen in applications such as Facebook, Netflix, Smartphones, Microsoft applications, voice assistants… the list goes on.
Artificial intelligence (AI) makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks. Most AI examples that you hear about today – from chess-playing computers to self-driving cars – rely heavily on deep learning and natural language processing. Using these technologies, computers can be trained to accomplish specific tasks by processing large amounts of data and recognising patterns in the data.
AI is already all around us, Examples of artificial intelligence use in business are:
• Spam filters
• Smart email categorisation
• Voice to text features
• Smart personal assistants, such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now
• Automated responders and online customer support
• Process automation
• Sales and business forecasting
• Security surveillance
In short AI is going to have a huge impact on all of our lives and all businesses should have a clear understanding of their short, medium and long-term plans.
There’s no hiding from the fact that voice search is a market that is growing. We don’t completely buy into the Comscore projections that by 2020, 50% of all search queries will be voiced-based but we do think it’s going to continue to grow and also with a younger audience.
But when was the last time you actually used Siri? Or asked Google? And what role is Alexa actually playing in your everyday life? If you’re anything like the majority of people, Alexa is currently a glorified playlist curator. Yes, there are brands such as Domino’s Pizza who have used voice technology with some success, but those cases seem few and far between.
The reality is that our generation has had voice-search capable devices in our pockets for the last 5+ years and it hasn’t really impacted the way we search. The change has come with the Amazon Echo and Google Assistant devices, which are currently more of a novelty than a must-have. Whether our children, a generation that destroys flatscreen TVs as they mistake them for a touchscreen device, will be more responsive to voice search as the technology evolves, we will have to wait and see.
In its current guise voice search feels a touch gimmicky and is more of a fad than future tech. The technology has been readily available for a while and while the proliferation of voice assistants has exploded over the last 12 months there isn’t a game-changing feature on offer in these devices (yet) to make them a compulsory purchase, especially in a commercial sense. Do keep an eye on the B2C market though as there are opportunities as being evidenced by CES 2019 and the development of products such as voice-activated parasols and as surprising as it sounds, a $7,000 Alexa-enabled toilet. Clearly there is an appetite for ‘voice’, but we’re still looking for purposeful uses for the technology.
Here’s two eye-opening stats for you:
4 billion people a year are now interacting with chat bots.
In a recent study by Oracle, 80 percent of businesses reported that they already use or plan to use chatbots by 2020.
There are many case studies flying around the internet showing that chat bots can make your business more profitable, whether its raising revenue by 17% or cutting customer service costs by 30%. 24/7 availability without the requirement for an off-day is certainly appealing to employers who are looking to offer out of hours support.
A chat bot has perfect recall of your purchase history and infinite patience. Monotonous tasks are not an issue for their happiness and ongoing performance, freeing up actual human beings for more important work.
Adding to this, 53% of customers say they would prefer to use online chat before calling a company for support. Unsurprisingly, this is a trend that is stronger in millennials than baby boomers (millennials are 20% more likely to prefer live chat to have their basic customer support questions answered), because as a society we’re being conditioned to value speed and convenience. From microwave meals to contactless payments and self-service checkouts, Uber and Netflix, the message is clear to business owners – convenience sells, or rather, retains your customers. And as the old adage goes, it costs five times more to acquire a customer than to retain one…
Mobile is also another area of strength for chat bot technology, especially in messaging-based applications. Both the food/ordering industry and travel/tourism industry are making use of chat bots to add a new channel to their revenue stream and reaping the rewards.
If we keep chat bots in generic B2C service roles to reduce overheads and increase efficiency in real-time, I can see how they can be impactful, but generally speaking the sophistication and affordability of AI isn’t at a place yet where chat bots are a viable option for many businesses. Yes, there are off-the-shelf and easily configurable chat bots/live help functions you can install on your website, but do you need an over-valued digital answerphone in the next 12 months?
In a nutshell, blockchain is a technology that is essentially a method of digital record-keeping. In their 2016 book, the Blockchain Revolution, authors Don and Alex Tapscott described the blockchain as “an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
To break this down even further, consider a spreadsheet that is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Then imagine that this network is designed to regularly update and authenticate this spreadsheet and you have a basic understanding of the blockchain.
Blockchain is a publicly available and decentralised ledger, there is not a single version of it that can be hacked, corrupted or independently edited. This makes it exceptionally secure and unusually transparent in its nature. Furthermore, it’s exceptionally fast compared to current systems because of its autonomy.
One of the main uses cases for such a technology is ‘smart contracts’, sometimes called self-executing or digital contracts. Smart contracts are seen as a major threat to skilled intermediaries (middlemen) such as solicitors, bankers and estate agents. Why? Because using the blockchain it is possible to monitor, execute and enforce an agreement without human interaction. This removes the need for a broker or third party, which reduces cost by eliminating their fee-earning role and increases the speed of any transaction.
Blockchain technology is also a potential solution to the age of data and ownership. Blockstack, a network built on blockchain-verified signatures is being described as “web 3.0” in some circles. On Blockstack your personal data remains with you rather than on the servers owned by your application. Visiting a site or using an app is like inserting a key into a lock: you keep a personal copy with you at all times, and once you place it in the lock, you take it out when you are done. There’s no running log kept of who used the lock and when. This means your data is your own and not being monetised by others without your consent.
In fundamental terms augmented reality, often abbreviated to AR, refers to a simple combination of real and virtual (computer-generated) worlds. Given a real subject, captured on video or camera, the technology ‘augments’ (adds to) that real-world image with extra layers of digital information.
Augmented reality has been the ‘next big thing’ if you listen to marketing buzz for at least five years now, yet it’s a technology that has really struggled to break out of its niche as a cool tech demo to become something more meaningful, more purposeful, something that actually provides a tangible benefit to people.
Both Google and Microsoft want a piece of AR technology, and to be at the forefront of creating the gadgetry that makes the technology we see in films like Minority Report and Iron Man a reality. Google Glass, an optical head-mounted display, designed in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses that displayed information in a smartphone-like, hands-free format and allowed wearers to communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands, has been already shelved by Google. Concerns about safety (a device constantly emitting carcinogenic radiation you wear on your head), privacy (the ability to surreptitiously film anyone/anything), price ($1,500 to exclusive sign-ups) resigned the ugly device without a demand to the scrapheap before it really even got out of the beta stage.
Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality can include entertainment (i.e. gaming) and educational purposes (i.e. medical or military training).
Currently standard virtual reality systems use either virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to look around the artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual features or items. The effect is commonly created by VR headsets consisting of a head-mounted display with a small screen in front of the eyes, but can also be created through specially designed rooms with multiple large screens. Virtual reality typically incorporates auditory and video feedback, but may also allow other types of sensory and force feedback through haptic technology.
An article on the BT site explores the potential benefits of VR. To them Virtual reality is the future, though not the future we were promised by ridiculous 1992 techno-thriller The Lawnmower Man. No, the new VR is something to actually pay attention to – the technological kinks have more or less been ironed out, big companies like HTC, Facebook and Sony are creating their own hardware and, importantly, it’s going to be affordable for normal people. With the HTC Vive, Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Sony’s PlayStation VR doing the rounds, we thought we’d take a look at a few ways that – this time around – VR could change the world.
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