Tag Archives: Employee

How to Compare CRM Options for the Employee Benefits Broker Industry

CRM Blog How to Compare CRM Options for the Employee Benefits Broker Industry

Insurance benefits brokers know that using a good CRM system can make them more productive. But, finding one can be easier said than done.

A good CRM system can help any business quickly identify new sales opportunities, manage follow-through from lead to close, and nurture existing customers. But the methods and terminology used in the insurance industry for employee benefits brokers are unique.

Not using any system is ineffective. Just choosing an off the shelf CRM system can prove to be disappointing. But building a custom solution written just for your company can be prohibitively expensive. Let’s compare the options and the solution.

Managing without a CRM system

Without a good CRM solution, it is common for employee benefits brokers to rely on a mix of Office suite programs like Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Outlook for information management; including, contact management, email communication and scheduling. . Most brokers also use an assortment of physical aids and filing systems, for example, filing cabinets, desk drawers or manila folders in common areas. Not having a secure process and storage location for contractual insurance documents presents many risks, and possibly HIPAA violations. Managing without a CRM system oftentimes creates siloes of information that may serve individual people, however, information siloes are always counterproductive for the agency at large. When data needs to be entered in different places it greatly increases staff workload and the likelihood of human error, which in turn, presents risk to the agency.

Off the shelf CRM system

Brokers who choose to use an off the shelf standard CRM system have a better experience compared to not using anything, but the unique methods and terminology of your specific business greatly limit the value of such systems because they too are designed for the broadest range of uses and business types. Businesses cannot shoehorn a CRM system into their organization because it can quickly turn into a disruptive and expensive mistake.

Custom-built standalone CRM software

A software system that is built just for your company is going to be expensive and time-consuming to build. It can also be difficult to maintain and support if the original author of the software is unavailable.  Custom-built standalone systems have three major drawbacks which call into question their value for employee benefits brokers. First, the systems are rigid, meaning that any flexibility they have for client customization is negligible, if it even exists. Second, the ability to seamlessly interact with a client’s other software is limited. This means that like other standalone solutions the data must be re-entered in different places with the related problems of extra work, more mistakes, and inefficiency. Third, standalone systems can be quite expensive to design and maintain.

CRM software tailored to the Benefits Broker Industry

The best solution for employee benefits brokers is to invest in a flexible CRM system that has been specifically adapted for your industry.

A CRM systems tailored for employee benefits brokers must have the following prerequisites. It must:

  • Be flexible. Too often, we see benefits brokers purchase a CRM system designed for the benefits broker industry that is so rigid that they end up spending a lot of time and money trying to adapt their agency to the software. It never works.
  • Leverage the significant existing core benefits of CRM, while extending the scope to suit the special needs of benefits brokers. Productivity tools delivered by CRM are industry agnostic. Workflows, activity management, marketing and lead management, dashboard and reports, etc. are delivered as core CRM features and can easily be adapted to the business.

It is equally important to invest in a CRM platform from an established software company that you trust and is likely to be around for as long as the software will be needed. It is also vital to consider the scale of the user community and the business implementation partner’s availability to assist you in supporting your changing needs as they arise. No business should risk finding itself dependent on mission-critical software that was developed by a company that is no longer around or has poor or lacking customer service.

Brokers are by definition intermediaries between customers and carriers. This means that in order to succeed you need to be intimately acquainted with your clients as well as with the highly complex, competitive offering of different carriers. You must record and process important information from many sources about both clients and carriers. To do that effectively, you must:

  • Have a flexible system designed to help you quickly identify the different needs of your customers and your customers’ employees
  • Be able to generate complex proposals based on those assessments.
  • Be able to easily retrieve and record up-to-date client information
  • Provide visibility across the agency.

The nature of the benefits broker business is such that mistakes or oversights can potentially have huge financial and legal implications – an issue made more acute by the enormous variety and complexity of available options. For that reason, the security of any customized CRM system for brokers must be more rigid than systems built for a less sensitive industry.

The system must:

  • provide a clear overview of each client’s interactions,
  • organize policies and carriers,
  • enable easy management of quotes and service issues,
  • deliver a data security model to ensure compliance is being met,
  • clearly flag all important actions and events well in advance.

It must also have a robust and adaptable workflow engine to automate repetitive tasks and create process consistencies that save time and minimize the risk of human error.

An integrated CRM solution like this can address brokers’ unique requirements in a way that no out-of-the-box software can. As well as being cost-effective from day one, an integrated CRM solution for your industry is an investment that continues to enhance the bottom line for as long as it is used.

An integrated CRM systems for the benefits brokers industry that can incorporate all those features is only possible if it was designed by software and business professionals who fully understand the industry as well as the adaptability of the underlying software platform.

The answer is Crowe BenefitsBridge for Microsoft Dynamics 365

Crowe BenefitsBridge is a highly flexible agency management solution customized for the benefits broker industry. It sits on top of industry-leading software, Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Microsoft Dynamics CRM). It was designed to help employee benefits brokers manage clients, insurance carriers, policies, plan rates, renewals, and commissions in addition to leads and opportunities. The tool integrates Microsoft tools for familiar and intuitive ease of use.

With visibility across your sales, marketing, and support functions, you can save money and gain better client insights.

Watch a Crowe BenefitsBridge overview video.

Crowe Horwath works with insurance agencies looking to drive measurable improvement in every business process, enable closer client relationships, and help any agency achieve new levels of profitability.

If your agency is interested in evaluating Microsoft Dynamics 365 with Crowe BenefitsBridge, contact us today.

By Ryan Plourde, Crowe Horwath, a Microsoft Dynamics 365 Gold Partner www.CroweCRM.com

Follow us on Twitter: @CroweCRM

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CRM Software Blog | Dynamics 365

5 Key Elements of a Winning Employee Advocacy Program

5 Key Elements of a Winning Employee Advocacy Program 351x200 5 Key Elements of a Winning Employee Advocacy Program

Two million blog posts are written every day. You can only imagine how many other content pieces are out there. This information overload makes it extremely tough for marketers to stand out. Sometimes, all it takes is one viral infographic or video, but most times, that isn’t the case. Rather than focusing on what content to publish, you should also be focusing on who delivers your content.

This is where employee advocacy comes in.

The idea is to simply get employees to share your content across their personal social networks ‒ to tap into their connections to help grow your reach, engagement, and conversions exponentially. While there’s no universal strategy for running an advocacy program, there are some things you can do to maximize its ROI. To get started, here are five key elements to include:

1. Quality Content

Above all, the content that you provide employee advocates should be of high quality. But what defines “quality content”?

Quality content can range from a 4,000-word eBook to a 1-minute video clip. It can take weeks to produce, or just a few hours. There’s no set criteria for creating quality content. However, you need to make sure that employees are sharing content that exceeds their audience’s expectations. Focus on content that is valuable yet super engaging.

Starting with the latter, you can make your content more engaging by:

  • turning average blog posts into beautiful infographics;
  • adding short GIFs and videos into your social content; and
  • posting polls and statistics that get people involved.

Next, don’t settle for one type of content ‒ go for a variety of original and curated pieces. Original content includes eBooks, case studies, webinars, blog posts, etc., that your marketing team created. Curated content consists of valuable articles and resources from third-party websites that educate your audience in a less self-promotional way.

Moreover, creating content that is valuable boils down to matching your readers’ intent. Take advantage of employees’ ability to gain insights and opinions about their audience; then use this information to create content that they’ll be interested in. This will also empower your advocates by proving their impact in the program.

2. Personalization

Now, more than ever, customers want you to connect with them on a real and personal level. Employee advocates add this element of personalization by putting faces to your brand. They create a human bridge between your company and customers.

Taking this element of personalization to the next level, you can increase engagement by getting employees to share content that’s relevant to their role in the company and to the particular audience. For example, consider your salespeople. What type of content do they enjoy sharing? What type of content is going to best resonate with their audience?

Generally, your salespeople are more likely to share thought-leadership pieces, industry-related reports, and articles from well-known publications, because these help to position them as knowledgeable and professional. On the other hand, content that’s technical in nature will be perceived as less relevant by your sales team ‒ and similarly, by their audience.

3. Simple Sharing

Another way to set your employee advocacy program for success is by fostering an environment of easy and effortless sharing. Whether advocates are attending a conference or sitting on the bus, it’s important to make it as simple as possible for them to share a large amount of content, no matter where they are.

By using a proper social advocacy platform, you can make tasks like sharing content an easy daily routine for employees. Rather than having to search for content on their own, employees who use an advocacy platform like Oktopost are guided on which content topics to post, when to post, and how to do so. Giving employees the necessary tools will get the ball rolling in your program and ensure that more content gets shared.

4. Incentive Strategy

Employees are the most essential asset of your marketing initiatives. Failing to incentivize them will result in less content being shared. Research shows that 69% of employees would work harder if their efforts were better appreciated.

Having a well-planned incentive strategy makes a huge difference and can really boost the ROI of your program. For now, here are a few examples of strategies that companies implement:

  • Monetary Rewards: Offer monetary rewards such as Amazon gift cards and movie vouchers ‒ or even upgrade advocates’ LinkedIn profiles to ‘Premium.’
  • Learning Opportunities: Give advocates the opportunity to improve their skills and expertise in the form of seminars, guest lectures, and training activities.
  • Recognition: Acknowledge employees for their involvement and contributions in front of their co-workers to boost their sense of confidence and accomplishment.
  • Fun Activities: Invite advocates for a fun and easygoing activity like a movie day or a night at a bar. Such a reward should be offered to the team or department that achieved the highest performance in the program, for example, the most content shared or the most clicks generated.

The type of incentive strategy you choose will depend on the number of advocates you have, your company’s hierarchy, and the personas that make up your program. For example, advocates from sales are more likely to value monetary rewards, while marketers will most appreciate public recognition.

5. Measurement

It’s easy to launch a program and then just hope for the best, but to make it a big success you must track and analyze its performance every step of the way. First, ask yourself what “success” looks like in your program. Is it the impact on reach? The increase in social chatter about your company? Or maybe the growth in the number of leads? By setting specific KPI’s, you can determine what’s working and what’s not. You can understand if your content needs improving, if you’re posting to the right channels, and if you’re reaching the right audience.

It’s important that you accurately tie these metrics to individual employee performance and to ROI. For the latter, you’ll need an advanced platform like Oktopost. Oktopost consolidates all of your social media marketing activities in one place for easy management and reporting.

In your advocacy program, Oktopost allows you to track everything from which prospects converted, to which employee brought in the conversion, to the type of content the employee posted. It also enables you to measure the metrics gathered by your advocacy program in the ecosystem of your other marketing initiatives. The more you measure and make adjustments, the more successful your program will be.

A winning employee advocacy program requires a lot more than giving employees content to share. Implement these five elements for a sustainable and fruitful program that can be tied to ROI, and help your employees spread the word about your brand.

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5 ways CRM can improve employee performance

CRM Blog 5 ways CRM can improve employee performance

If your employees’ productivity has dropped off, you need to fix the situation immediately because these problems typically don’t resolve themselves. A CRM solution like Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales can help this issue.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales, Marketing and Customer Service is a robust CRM (customer relationship management) tool that can solve a number of office problems that directly impact your employees’ productivity. Here are five ways this CRM can improve employee performance:

  1. Strengthens communication: Managers can access a greater amount of accurate information, which provides depth to their presentations and meetings. This CRM solution can also dissolve office silos.
  2. Increased solution integration: Microsoft Dynamics 365 can sync with Microsoft Outlook, allowing employees to integrate their contacts, calendars and tasks into the CRM platform. This improves performance because employees don’t have to waste time flipping back and forth between programs.
  3. Boosted flexibility: Companies are beginning to adopt wearable solutions and allow employees to bring their own devices to work. Both can be hooked up to a CRM solution, allowing employees to access the system even outside the office.
  4. Enhances intranet and internal marketing: Brand champions are formed when companies market themselves internally to employees. With more data available, managers can build out their intranet and other internal communication offerings.
  5. Improves accountability: Because all data is stored in one platform, managers have greater access to employee-focused statistics, such as sales information or emails.

To learn more, read The TM Group’s recent blog:http://www.tmgroupinc.com/blog/5-ways-crm-can-help-companies-increase-employee-performance/

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Is Employee Autonomy The Key To Successful Workplace Collaboration?

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Like the classic parable of the blind man and the elephant, it seems everyone has a unique take on digital transformation. Some equate digital transformation with emerging technologies, placing their bets on as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Others see it as a way to increase efficiencies and change business processes to accelerate product to market. Some others think of it is a means of strategic differentiation, innovating new business models for serving and engaging their customers. Despite the range of viewpoints, many businesses are still challenged with pragmatically evolving digital in ways that are meaningful, industry-disruptive, and market-leading.

According to a recent study of more than 3,000 senior executives across 17 countries and regions, only a paltry three percent of businesses worldwide have successfully completed enterprise-wide digital transformation initiatives, even though 84% of C-level executives ranks such efforts as “critically important” to the fundamental sustenance of their business.

The most comprehensive global study of its kind, the SAP Center for Business Insight report “SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study: 4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart,” in collaboration with Oxford Economics, identified the challenges, opportunities, value, and key technologies driving digital transformation. The findings specifically analyzed the performance of “digital leaders” – those who are connecting people, things, and businesses more intelligently, more effectively, and creating punctuated change faster than their less advanced rivals.

After analyzing the data, it was eye-opening to see that only three percent of companies (top 100) are successfully realizing their full potential through digital transformation. However, even more remarkable was that these leaders have four fundamental traits in common, regardless of their region of operation, their size, their organizational structure, or their industry.

We distilled these traits in the hope that others in the early stages of transformation or that are still struggling to find their bearings can embrace these principles in order to succeed. Ultimately I see these leaders as true ambidextrous organizations, managing evolutionary and revolutionary change simultaneously, willing to embrace innovation – not just on the edges of their business, but firmly into their core.

Here are the four traits that set these leaders apart from the rest:

Trait #1: They see digital transformation as truly transformational

An overwhelming majority (96%) of digital leaders view digital transformation as a core business goal that requires a unified digital mindset across the entire enterprise. But instead of allowing individual functions to change at their own pace, digital leaders prefer to evolve the organization to help ensure the success of their digital strategies.

The study found that 56% of these businesses regularly shift their organizational structure, which includes processes, partners, suppliers, and customers, compared to 10% of remaining companies. Plus, 70% actively bring lines of business together through cross-functional processes and technologies.

By creating a firm foundation for transformation, digital leaders are further widening the gap between themselves and their less advanced competitors as they innovate business models that can mitigate emerging risks and seize new opportunities quickly.

Trait #2: They focus on transforming customer-facing functions first

Although most companies believe technology, the pace of change, and growing global competition are the key global trends that will affect everything for years to come, digital leaders are expanding their frame of mind to consider the influence of customer empowerment. Executives who build a momentum of breakthrough innovation and industry transformation are the ones that are moving beyond the high stakes of the market to the activation of complete, end-to-end customer experiences.

In fact, 92% of digital leaders have established sophisticated digital transformation strategies and processes to drive transformational change in customer satisfaction and engagement, compared to 22% of their less mature counterparts. As a result, 70% have realized significant or transformational value from these efforts.

Trait #3: They create a virtuous cycle of digital talent

There’s little doubt that the competition for qualified talent is fierce. But for nearly three-quarters of companies that demonstrate digital-transformation leadership, it is easier to attract and retain talent because they are five times more likely to leverage digitization to change their talent management efforts.

The impact of their efforts goes beyond empowering recruiters to identify best-fit candidates, highlight risk factors and hiring errors, and predict long-term talent needs. Nearly half (48%) of digital leaders understand that they must invest heavily in the development of digital skills and technology to drive revenue, retain productive employees, and create new roles to keep up with their digital maturity over the next two years, compared to 30% of all surveyed executives.

Trait #4: They invest in next-generation technology using a bimodal architecture

A couple years ago, Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president at Gartner and global head of research, observed that “CIOs can’t transform their old IT organization into a digital startup, but they can turn it into a bi-modal IT organization. Forty-five percent of CIOs state they currently have a fast mode of operation, and we predict that 75% of IT organizations will be bimodal in some way by 2017.”

Based on the results of the SAP Center for Business Insight study, Sondergaard’s prediction was spot on. As digital leaders dive into advanced technologies, 72% are using a digital twin of the conventional IT organization to operate efficiently without disruption while refining innovative scenarios to resolve business challenges and integrate them to stay ahead of the competition. Unfortunately, only 30% of less advanced businesses embrace this view.

Working within this bimodal architecture is emboldening digital leaders to take on incredibly progressive technology. For example, the study found that 50% of these firms are using artificial intelligence and machine learning, compared to seven percent of all respondents. They are also leading the adoption curve of Big Data solutions and analytics (94% vs. 60%) and the Internet of Things (76% vs. 52%).

Digital leadership is a practice of balance, not pure digitization

Most executives understand that digital transformation is a critical driver of revenue growth, profitability, and business expansion. However, as digital leaders are proving, digital strategies must deliver a balance of organizational flexibility, forward-looking technology adoption, and bold change. And clearly, this approach is paying dividends for them. They are growing market share, increasing customer satisfaction, improving employee engagement, and, perhaps more important, achieving more profitability than ever before.

For any company looking to catch up to digital leaders, the conversation around digital transformation needs to change immediately to combat three deadly sins: Stop investing in one-off, isolated projects hidden in a single organization. Stop viewing IT as an enabler instead of a strategic partner. Stop walling off the rest of the business from siloed digital successes.

As our study shows, companies that treat their digital transformation as an all-encompassing, all-sharing, and all-knowing business imperative will be the ones that disrupt the competitive landscape and stay ahead of a constantly evolving economy.

Follow me on twitter @vivek_bapat 

For more insight on digital leaders, check out the SAP Center for Business Insight report, conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics,SAP Digital Transformation Executive Study: 4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart.”


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Digitalist Magazine

Why Employee Advocacy Fails And Personal Branding Is A Crock

When it comes to buying things—even big-ticket items—the way we make decisions makes no sense. One person makes an impulsive offer on a house because of the way the light comes in through the kitchen windows. Another gleefully drives a high-end sports car off the lot even though it will probably never approach the limits it was designed to push.

We can (and usually do) rationalize these decisions after the fact by talking about needing more closet space or wanting to out-accelerate an 18-wheeler as we merge onto the highway, but years of study have arrived at a clear conclusion:

When it comes to the customer experience, human beings are fundamentally irrational.

In the brick-and-mortar past, companies could leverage that irrationality in time-tested ways. They relied heavily on physical context, such as an inviting retail space, to make products and services as psychologically appealing as possible. They used well-trained salespeople and employees to maximize positive interactions and rescue negative ones. They carefully sequenced customer experiences, such as having a captain’s dinner on the final night of a cruise, to play on our hard-wired craving to end experiences on a high note.

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Today, though, customer interactions are increasingly moving online. Fortune reports that on 2016’s Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that is so crucial to holiday retail results, 108.5 million Americans shopped online, while only 99.1 million visited brick-and-mortar stores. The 9.4% gap between the two was a dramatic change from just one year prior, when on- and offline Black Friday shopping were more or less equal.

When people browse in a store for a few minutes, an astute salesperson can read the telltale signs that they’re losing interest and heading for the exit. The salesperson can then intervene, answering questions and closing the sale.

Replicating that in a digital environment isn’t as easy, however. Despite all the investments companies have made to counteract e-shopping cart abandonment, they lack the data that would let them anticipate when a shopper is on the verge of opting out of a transaction, and the actions they take to lure someone back afterwards can easily come across as less helpful than intrusive.

In a digital environment, companies need to figure out how to use Big Data analysis and digital design to compensate for the absence of persuasive human communication and physical sights, sounds, and sensations. What’s more, a 2014 Gartner survey found that 89% of marketers expected customer experience to be their primary differentiator by 2016, and we’re already well into 2017.

As transactions continue to shift toward the digital and omnichannel, companies need to figure out new ways to gently push customers along the customer journey—and to do so without frustrating, offending, or otherwise alienating them.

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The quest to understand online customers better in order to influence them more effectively is built on a decades-old foundation: behavioral psychology, the study of the connections between what people believe and what they actually do. All of marketing and advertising is based on changing people’s thoughts in order to influence their actions. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that a now-famous article in the Harvard Business Review formally introduced the idea of applying behavioral psychology to customer service in particular.

The article’s authors, Richard B. Chase and Sriram Dasu, respectively a professor and assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, describe how companies could apply fundamental tenets of behavioral psychology research to “optimize those extraordinarily important moments when the company touches its customers—for better and for worse.” Their five main points were simple but have proven effective across multiple industries:

  1. Finish strong. People evaluate experiences after the fact based on their high points and their endings, so the way a transaction ends is more important than how it begins.
  2. Front-load the negatives. To ensure a strong positive finish, get bad experiences out of the way early.
  3. Spread out the positives. Break up the pleasurable experiences into segments so they seem to last longer.
  4. Provide choices. People don’t like to be shoved toward an outcome; they prefer to feel in control. Giving them options within the boundaries of your ability to deliver builds their commitment.
  5. Be consistent. People like routine and predictability.

For example, McKinsey cites a major health insurance company that experimented with this framework in 2009 as part of its health management program. A test group of patients received regular coaching phone calls from nurses to help them meet health goals.

The front-loaded negative was inherent: the patients knew they had health problems that needed ongoing intervention, such as weight control or consistent use of medication. Nurses called each patient on a frequent, regular schedule to check their progress (consistency and spread-out positives), suggested next steps to keep them on track (choices), and cheered on their improvements (a strong finish).

McKinsey reports the patients in the test group were more satisfied with the health management program by seven percentage points, more satisfied with the insurance company by eight percentage points, and more likely to say the program motivated them to change their behavior by five percentage points.

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The nurses who worked with the test group also reported increased job satisfaction. And these improvements all appeared in the first two weeks of the pilot program, without significantly affecting the company’s costs or tweaking key metrics, like the number and length of the calls.

Indeed, an ongoing body of research shows that positive reinforcements and indirect suggestions influence our decisions better and more subtly than blatant demands. This concept hit popular culture in 2008 with the bestselling book Nudge.

Written by University of Chicago economics professor Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge first explains this principle, then explores it as a way to help people make decisions in their best interests, such as encouraging people to eat healthier by displaying fruits and vegetables at eye level or combatting credit card debt by placing a prominent notice on every credit card statement informing cardholders how much more they’ll spend over a year if they make only the minimum payment.

Whether they’re altruistic or commercial, nudges work because our decision-making is irrational in a predictable way. The question is how to apply that awareness to the digital economy.

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In its early days, digital marketing assumed that online shopping would be purely rational, a tool that customers would use to help them zero in on the best product at the best price. The assumption was logical, but customer behavior remained irrational.

Our society is overloaded with information and short on time, says Brad Berens, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, Annenberg, so it’s no surprise that the speed of the digital economy exacerbates our desire to make a fast decision rather than a perfect one, as well as increasing our tendency to make choices based on impulse rather than logic.

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Buyers want what they want, but they don’t necessarily understand or care why they want it. They just want to get it and move on, with minimal friction, to the next thing. “Most of our decisions aren’t very important, and we only have so much time to interrogate and analyze them,” Berens points out.

But limited time and mental capacity for decision-making is only half the issue. The other half is that while our brains are both logical and emotional, the emotional side—also known as the limbic system or, more casually, the primitive lizard brain—is far older and more developed. It’s strong enough to override logic and drive our decisions, leaving rational thought to, well, rationalize our choices after the fact.

This is as true in the B2B realm as it is for consumers. The business purchasing process, governed as it is by requests for proposals, structured procurement processes, and permission gating, is designed to ensure that the people with spending authority make the most sensible deals possible. However, research shows that even in this supposedly rational process, the relationship with the seller is still more influential than product quality in driving customer commitment and loyalty.

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Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, studies how the emotional brain shapes decisions and experiences. In a popular TED Talk, he says that people in the process of making decisions fall into one of two mindsets: Type 1, which is stressed and wants to feel comforted and safe, and Type 2, which is bored or eager and wants to explore and take action.

People can move between these two mindsets, he says, but in both cases, the emotional brain is in control. Influencing it means first delivering a message that soothes or motivates, depending on the mindset the person happens to be in at the moment and only then presenting the logical argument to help rationalize the action.

In the digital economy, working with those tendencies means designing digital experiences with the full awareness that people will not evaluate them objectively, says Ravi Dhar, director of the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management. Since any experience’s greatest subjective impact in retrospect depends on what happens at the beginning, the end, and the peaks in between, companies need to design digital experiences to optimize those moments—to rationally design experiences for limited rationality.

This often involves making multiple small changes in the way options are presented well before the final nudge into making a purchase. A paper that Dhar co-authored for McKinsey offers the example of a media company that puts most of its content behind a paywall but offers free access to a limited number of articles a month as an incentive to drive subscriptions.

Many nonsubscribers reached their limit of free articles in the morning, but they were least likely to respond to a subscription offer generated by the paywall at that hour, because they were reading just before rushing out the door for the day. When the company delayed offers until later in the day, when readers were less distracted, successful subscription conversions increased.

Pre-selecting default options for necessary choices is another way companies can design digital experiences to follow customers’ preference for the path of least resistance. “We know from a decade of research that…defaults are a de facto nudge,” Dhar says.

For example, many online retailers set a default shipping option because customers have to choose a way to receive their packages and are more likely to passively allow the default option than actively choose another one. Similarly, he says, customers are more likely to enroll in a program when the default choice is set to accept it rather than to opt out.

Another intriguing possibility lies in the way customers react differently to on-screen information based on how that information is presented. Even minor tweaks can have a disproportionate impact on the choices people make, as explained in depth by University of California, Los Angeles, behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi in his 2015 book, The Smarter Screen.

A few of the conclusions Benartzi reached: items at the center of a laptop screen draw more attention than those at the edges. Those on the upper left of a screen split into quadrants attract more attention than those on the lower left. And intriguingly, demographics are important variables.

Benartzi cites research showing that people over 40 prefer more visually complicated, text-heavy screens than younger people, who are drawn to saturated colors and large images. Women like screens that use a lot of different colors, including pastels, while men prefer primary colors on a grey or white background. People in Malaysia like lots of color; people in Germany don’t.

This suggests companies need to design their online experiences very differently for middle-aged women than they do for teenage boys. And, as Benartzi writes, “it’s easy to imagine a future in which each Internet user has his or her own ‘aesthetic algorithm,’ customizing the appearance of every site they see.”

Applying behavioral psychology to the digital experience in more sophisticated ways will require additional formal research into recommendation algorithms, predictions, and other applications of customer data science, says Jim Guszcza, PhD, chief U.S. data scientist for Deloitte Consulting.

In fact, given customers’ tendency to make the fastest decisions, Guszcza believes that in some cases, companies may want to consider making choice environments more difficult to navigate— a process he calls “disfluencing”—in high-stakes situations, like making an important medical decision or an irreversible big-ticket purchase. Choosing a harder-to-read font and a layout that requires more time to navigate forces customers to work harder to process the information, sending a subtle signal that it deserves their close attention.

That said, a company can’t apply behavioral psychology to deliver a digital experience if customers don’t engage with its site or mobile app in the first place. Addressing this often means making the process as convenient as possible, itself a behavioral nudge.

A digital solution that’s easy to use and search, offers a variety of choices pre-screened for relevance, and provides a friction-free transaction process is the equivalent of putting a product at eye level—and that applies far beyond retail. Consider the Global Entry program, which streamlines border crossings into the U.S. for pre-approved international travelers. Members can skip long passport control lines in favor of scanning their passports and answering a few questions at a touchscreen kiosk. To date, 1.8 million people have decided this convenience far outweighs the slow pace of approvals.

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The basics of influencing irrational customers are essentially the same whether they’re taking place in a store or on a screen. A business still needs to know who its customers are, understand their needs and motivations, and give them a reason to buy.

And despite the accelerating shift to digital commerce, we still live in a physical world. “There’s no divide between old-style analog retail and new-style digital retail,” Berens says. “Increasingly, the two are overlapping. One of the things we’ve seen for years is that people go into a store with their phones, shop for a better price, and buy online. Or vice versa: they shop online and then go to a store to negotiate for a better deal.”

Still, digital increases the number of touchpoints from which the business can gather, cluster, and filter more types of data to make great suggestions that delight and surprise customers. That’s why the hottest word in marketing today is omnichannel. Bringing behavioral psychology to bear on the right person in the right place in the right way at the right time requires companies to design customer experiences that bridge multiple channels, on- and offline.

Amazon, for example, is known for its friction-free online purchasing. The company’s pilot store in Seattle has no lines or checkout counters, extending the brand experience into the physical world in a way that aligns with what customers already expect of it, Dhar says.

Omnichannel helps counter some people’s tendency to believe their purchasing decision isn’t truly well informed unless they can see, touch, hear, and in some cases taste and smell a product. Until we have ubiquitous access to virtual reality systems with full haptic feedback, the best way to address these concerns is by providing personalized, timely, relevant information and feedback in the moment through whatever channel is appropriate. That could be an automated call center that answers frequently asked questions, a video that shows a product from every angle, or a demonstration wizard built into the product. Any of these channels could also suggest the customer visit the nearest store to receive help from a human.

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The omnichannel approach gives businesses plenty of opportunities to apply subtle nudges across physical and digital channels. For example, a supermarket chain could use store-club card data to push personalized offers to customers’ smartphones while they shop. “If the data tells them that your goal is to feed a family while balancing nutrition and cost, they could send you an e-coupon offering a discount on a brand of breakfast cereal that tastes like what you usually buy but contains half the sugar,” Guszcza says.

Similarly, a car insurance company could provide periodic feedback to policyholders through an app or even the digital screens in their cars, he suggests. “Getting a warning that you’re more aggressive than 90% of comparable drivers and three tips to avoid risk and lower your rates would not only incentivize the driver to be more careful for financial reasons but reduce claims and make the road safer for everyone.”

Digital channels can also show shoppers what similar people or organizations are buying, let them solicit feedback from colleagues or friends, and read reviews from other people who have made the same purchases. This leverages one of the most familiar forms of behavioral psychology—reinforcement from peers—and reassures buyers with Shiv’s Type 1 mindset that they’re making a choice that meets their needs or encourages those with the Type 2 mindset to move forward with the purchase. The rational mind only has to ask at the end of the process “Am I getting the best deal?” And as Guszcza points out, “If you can create solutions that use behavioral design and digital technology to turn my personal data into insight to reach my goals, you’ve increased the value of your engagement with me so much that I might even be willing to pay you more.”

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Many transactions take place through corporate procurement systems that allow a company to leverage not just its own purchasing patterns but all the data in a marketplace specifically designed to facilitate enterprise purchasing. Machine learning can leverage this vast database of information to provide the necessary nudge to optimize purchasing patterns, when to buy, how best to negotiate, and more. To some extent, this is an attempt to eliminate psychology and make choices more rational.

B2B spending is tied into financial systems and processes, logistics systems, transportation systems, and other operational requirements in a way no consumer spending can be. A B2B decision is less about making a purchase that satisfies a desire than it is about making a purchase that keeps the company functioning.

That said, the decision still isn’t entirely rational, Berens says. When organizations have to choose among vendors offering relatively similar products and services, they generally opt for the vendor whose salespeople they like the best.

This means B2B companies have to make sure they meet or exceed parity with competitors on product quality, pricing, and time to delivery to satisfy all the rational requirements of the decision process. Only then can they bring behavioral psychology to bear by delivering consistently superior customer service, starting as soon as the customer hits their app or website and spreading out positive interactions all the way through post-purchase support. Finishing strong with a satisfied customer reinforces the relationship with a business customer just as much as it does with a consumer.

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The best nudges make the customer relationship easy and enjoyable by providing experiences that are effortless and fun to choose, on- or offline, Dhar says. What sets the digital nudge apart in accommodating irrational customers is its ability to turn data about them and their journey into more effective, personalized persuasion even in the absence of the human touch.

Yet the subtle art of influencing customers isn’t just about making a sale, and it certainly shouldn’t be about persuading people to act against their own best interests, as Nudge co-author Thaler reminds audiences by exhorting them to “nudge for good.”

Guszcza, who talks about influencing people to make the choices they would make if only they had unlimited rationality, says companies that leverage behavioral psychology in their digital experiences should do so with an eye to creating positive impact for the customer, the company, and, where appropriate, the society.

In keeping with that ethos, any customer experience designed along behavioral lines has to include the option of letting the customer make a different choice, such as presenting a confirmation screen at the end of the purchase process with the cold, hard numbers and letting them opt out of the transaction altogether.

“A nudge is directing people in a certain direction,” Dhar says. “But for an ethical vendor, the only right direction to nudge is the right direction as judged by the customers themselves.” D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

About the Authors:

Volker Hildebrand is Global Vice President for SAP Hybris solutions.

Sam Yen is Chief Design Officer and Managing Director at SAP.

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.


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Employee Experience: The Great Differentiator

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

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Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock


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The Silent Struggle: Mental Health And Employee Well-Being [INFOGRAPHIC]

Last August, a woman arrived at a Reno, Nevada, hospital and told the attending doctors that she had recently returned from an extended trip to India, where she had broken her right thighbone two years ago. The woman, who was in her 70s, had subsequently developed an infection in her thigh and hip for which she was hospitalized in India several times. The Reno doctors recognized that the infection was serious—and the visit to India, where antibiotic-resistant bacteria runs rampant, raised red flags.

When none of the 14 antibiotics the physicians used to treat the woman worked, they sent a sample of the bacterium to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for testing. The CDC confirmed the doctors’ worst fears: the woman had a class of microbe called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Carbapenems are a powerful class of antibiotics used as last-resort treatment for multidrug-resistant infections. The CDC further found that, in this patient’s case, the pathogen was impervious to all 26 antibiotics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In other words, there was no cure.

This is just the latest alarming development signaling the end of the road for antibiotics as we know them. In September, the woman died from septic shock, in which an infection takes over and shuts down the body’s systems, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Other antibiotic options, had they been available, might have saved the Nevada woman. But the solution to the larger problem won’t be a new drug. It will have to be an entirely new approach to the diagnosis of infectious disease, to the use of antibiotics, and to the monitoring of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)—all enabled by new technology.

sap Q217 digital double feature2 images2 The Silent Struggle: Mental Health And Employee Well Being [INFOGRAPHIC]But that new technology is not being implemented fast enough to prevent what former CDC director Tom Frieden has nicknamed nightmare bacteria. And the nightmare is becoming scarier by the year. A 2014 British study calculated that 700,000 people die globally each year because of AMR. By 2050, the global cost of antibiotic resistance could grow to 10 million deaths and US$ 100 trillion a year, according to a 2014 estimate. And the rate of AMR is growing exponentially, thanks to the speed with which humans serving as hosts for these nasty bugs can move among healthcare facilities—or countries. In the United States, for example, CRE had been seen only in North Carolina in 2000; today it’s nationwide.

Abuse and overuse of antibiotics in healthcare and livestock production have enabled bacteria to both mutate and acquire resistant genes from other organisms, resulting in truly pan-drug resistant organisms. As ever-more powerful superbugs continue to proliferate, we are potentially facing the deadliest and most costly human-made catastrophe in modern times.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Even if new antibiotics could solve the problem, there are obstacles to their development. For one thing, antibiotics have complex molecular structures, which slows the discovery process. Further, they aren’t terribly lucrative for pharmaceutical manufacturers: public health concerns call for new antimicrobials to be financially accessible to patients and used conservatively precisely because of the AMR issue, which reduces the financial incentives to create new compounds. The last entirely new class of antibiotic was introduced 30 year ago. Finally, bacteria will develop resistance to new antibiotics as well if we don’t adopt new approaches to using them.

Technology can play the lead role in heading off this disaster. Vast amounts of data from multiple sources are required for better decision making at all points in the process, from tracking or predicting antibiotic-resistant disease outbreaks to speeding the potential discovery of new antibiotic compounds. However, microbes will quickly adapt and resist new medications, too, if we don’t also employ systems that help doctors diagnose and treat infection in a more targeted and judicious way.

Indeed, digital tools can help in all four actions that the CDC recommends for combating AMR: preventing infections and their spread, tracking resistance patterns, improving antibiotic use, and developing new diagnostics and treatment.

Meanwhile, individuals who understand both the complexities of AMR and the value of technologies like machine learning, human-computer interaction (HCI), and mobile applications are working to develop and advocate for solutions that could save millions of lives.

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Keeping an Eye Out for Outbreaks

Like others who are leading the fight against AMR, Dr. Steven Solomon has no illusions about the difficulty of the challenge. “It is the single most complex problem in all of medicine and public health—far outpacing the complexity and the difficulty of any other problem that we face,” says Solomon, who is a global health consultant and former director of the CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance.

Solomon wants to take the battle against AMR beyond the laboratory. In his view, surveillance—tracking and analyzing various data on AMR—is critical, particularly given how quickly and widely it spreads. But surveillance efforts are currently fraught with shortcomings. The available data is fragmented and often not comparable. Hospitals fail to collect the representative samples necessary for surveillance analytics, collecting data only on those patients who experience resistance and not on those who get better. Laboratories use a wide variety of testing methods, and reporting is not always consistent or complete.

Surveillance can serve as an early warning system. But weaknesses in these systems have caused public health officials to consistently underestimate the impact of AMR in loss of lives and financial costs. That’s why improving surveillance must be a top priority, says Solomon, who previously served as chair of the U.S. Federal Interagency Task Force on AMR and has been tracking the advance of AMR since he joined the U.S. Public Health Service in 1981.

A Collaborative Diagnosis

Ineffective surveillance has also contributed to huge growth in the use of antibiotics when they aren’t warranted. Strong patient demand and financial incentives for prescribing physicians are blamed for antibiotics abuse in China. India has become the largest consumer of antibiotics on the planet, in part because they are prescribed or sold for diarrheal diseases and upper respiratory infections for which they have limited value. And many countries allow individuals to purchase antibiotics over the counter, exacerbating misuse and overuse.

In the United States, antibiotics are improperly prescribed 50% of the time, according to CDC estimates. One study of adult patients visiting U.S. doctors to treat respiratory problems found that more than two-thirds of antibiotics were prescribed for conditions that were not infections at all or for infections caused by viruses—for which an antibiotic would do nothing. That’s 27 million courses of antibiotics wasted a year—just for respiratory problems—in the United States alone.

And even in countries where there are national guidelines for prescribing antibiotics, those guidelines aren’t always followed. A study published in medical journal Family Practice showed that Swedish doctors, both those trained in Sweden and those trained abroad, inconsistently followed rules for prescribing antibiotics.

Solomon strongly believes that, worldwide, doctors need to expand their use of technology in their offices or at the bedside to guide them through a more rational approach to antibiotic use. Doctors have traditionally been reluctant to adopt digital technologies, but Solomon thinks that the AMR crisis could change that. New digital tools could help doctors and hospitals integrate guidelines for optimal antibiotic prescribing into their everyday treatment routines.

“Human-computer interactions are critical, as the amount of information available on antibiotic resistance far exceeds the ability of humans to process it,” says Solomon. “It offers the possibility of greatly enhancing the utility of computer-assisted physician order entry (CPOE), combined with clinical decision support.” Healthcare facilities could embed relevant information and protocols at the point of care, guiding the physician through diagnosis and prescription and, as a byproduct, facilitating the collection and reporting of antibiotic use.

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Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s antibiotic stewardship division has deployed a software program that gathers information from electronic medical records, order entries, computerized laboratory and pathology reports, and more. The system measures baseline antimicrobial use, dosing, duration, costs, and use patterns. It also analyzes bacteria and trends in their susceptibilities and helps with clinical decision making and prescription choices. The goal, says Dr. David Haslam, who heads the program, is to decrease the use of “big gun” super antibiotics in favor of more targeted treatment.

While this approach is not yet widespread, there is consensus that incorporating such clinical-decision support into electronic health records will help improve quality of care, contain costs, and reduce overtreatment in healthcare overall—not just in AMR. A 2013 randomized clinical trial finds that doctors who used decision-support tools were significantly less likely to order antibiotics than those in the control group and prescribed 50% fewer broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Putting mobile devices into doctors’ hands could also help them accept decision support, believes Solomon. Last summer, Scotland’s National Health Service developed an antimicrobial companion app to give practitioners nationwide mobile access to clinical guidance, as well as an audit tool to support boards in gathering data for local and national use.

“The immediacy and the consistency of the input to physicians at the time of ordering antibiotics may significantly help address the problem of overprescribing in ways that less-immediate interventions have failed to do,” Solomon says. In addition, handheld devices with so-called lab-on-a-chip  technology could be used to test clinical specimens at the bedside and transmit the data across cellular or satellite networks in areas where infrastructure is more limited.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can also become invaluable technology collaborators to help doctors more precisely diagnose and treat infection. In such a system, “the physician and the AI program are really ‘co-prescribing,’” says Solomon. “The AI can handle so much more information than the physician and make recommendations that can incorporate more input on the type of infection, the patient’s physiologic status and history, and resistance patterns of recent isolates in that ward, in that hospital, and in the community.”

Speed Is Everything

Growing bacteria in a dish has never appealed to Dr. James Davis, a computational biologist with joint appointments at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago Computation Institute. The first of a growing breed of computational biologists, Davis chose a PhD advisor in 2004 who was steeped in bioinformatics technology “because you could see that things were starting to change,” he says. He was one of the first in his microbiology department to submit a completely “dry” dissertation—that is, one that was all digital with nothing grown in a lab.

Upon graduation, Davis wanted to see if it was possible to predict whether an organism would be susceptible or resistant to a given antibiotic, leading him to explore the potential of machine learning to predict AMR.

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As the availability of cheap computing power has gone up and the cost of genome sequencing has gone down, it has become possible to sequence a pathogen sample in order to detect its AMR resistance mechanisms. This could allow doctors to identify the nature of an infection in minutes instead of hours or days, says Davis.

Davis is part of a team creating a giant database of bacterial genomes with AMR metadata for the Pathosystems Resource Integration Center (PATRIC), funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to collect data on priority pathogens, such as tuberculosis and gonorrhea.

Because the current inability to identify microbes quickly is one of the biggest roadblocks to making an accurate diagnosis, the team’s work is critically important. The standard method for identifying drug resistance is to take a sample from a wound, blood, or urine and expose the resident bacteria to various antibiotics. If the bacterial colony continues to divide and thrive despite the presence of a normally effective drug, it indicates resistance. The process typically takes between 16 and 20 hours, itself an inordinate amount of time in matters of life and death. For certain strains of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, though, such testing can take a week. While physicians are waiting for test results, they often prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics or make a best guess about what drug will work based on their knowledge of what’s happening in their hospital, “and in the meantime, you either get better,” says Davis, “or you don’t.”

At PATRIC, researchers are using machine-learning classifiers to identify regions of the genome involved in antibiotic resistance that could form the foundation for a “laboratory free” process for predicting resistance. Being able to identify the genetic mechanisms of AMR and predict the behavior of bacterial pathogens without petri dishes could inform clinical decision making and improve reaction time. Thus far, the researchers have developed machine-learning classifiers for identifying antibiotic resistance in Acinetobacter baumannii (a big player in hospital-acquired infection), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (a.k.a. MRSA, a worldwide problem), and Streptococcus pneumoniae (a leading cause of bacterial meningitis), with accuracies ranging from 88% to 99%.

Houston Methodist Hospital, which uses the PATRIC database, is researching multidrug-resistant bacteria, specifically MRSA. Not only does resistance increase the cost of care, but people with MRSA are 64% more likely to die than people with a nonresistant form of the infection, according to WHO. Houston Methodist is investigating the molecular genetic causes of drug resistance in MRSA in order to identify new treatment approaches and help develop novel antimicrobial agents.

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The Hunt for a New Class of Antibiotics

There are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and then there’s Clostridium difficile—a.k.a. C. difficile—a bacterium that attacks the intestines even in young and healthy patients in hospitals after the use of antibiotics.

It is because of C. difficile that Dr. L. Clifford McDonald jumped into the AMR fight. The epidemiologist was finishing his work analyzing the spread of SARS in Toronto hospitals in 2004 when he turned his attention to C. difficile, convinced that the bacteria would become more common and more deadly. He was right, and today he’s at the forefront of treating the infection and preventing the spread of AMR as senior advisor for science and integrity in the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “[AMR] is an area that we’re funding heavily…insofar as the CDC budget can fund anything heavily,” says McDonald, whose group has awarded $ 14 million in contracts for innovative anti-AMR approaches.

Developing new antibiotics is a major part of the AMR battle. The majority of new antibiotics developed in recent years have been variations of existing drug classes. It’s been three decades since the last new class of antibiotics was introduced. Less than 5% of venture capital in pharmaceutical R&D is focused on antimicrobial development. A 2008 study found that less than 10% of the 167 antibiotics in development at the time had a new “mechanism of action” to deal with multidrug resistance. “The low-hanging fruit [of antibiotic development] has been picked,” noted a WHO report.

Researchers will have to dig much deeper to develop novel medicines. Machine learning could help drug developers sort through much larger data sets and go about the capital-intensive drug development process in a more prescriptive fashion, synthesizing those molecules most likely to have an impact.

McDonald believes that it will become easier to find new antibiotics if we gain a better understanding of the communities of bacteria living in each of us—as many as 1,000 different types of microbes live in our intestines, for example. Disruption to those microbial communities—our “microbiome”—can herald AMR. McDonald says that Big Data and machine learning will be needed to unlock our microbiomes, and that’s where much of the medical community’s investment is going.

He predicts that within five years, hospitals will take fecal samples or skin swabs and sequence the microorganisms in them as a kind of pulse check on antibiotic resistance. “Just doing the bioinformatics to sort out what’s there and the types of antibiotic resistance that might be in that microbiome is a Big Data challenge,” McDonald says. “The only way to make sense of it, going forward, will be advanced analytic techniques, which will no doubt include machine learning.”

Reducing Resistance on the Farm

Bringing information closer to where it’s needed could also help reduce agriculture’s contribution to the antibiotic resistance problem. Antibiotics are widely given to livestock to promote growth or prevent disease. In the United States, more kilograms of antibiotics are administered to animals than to people, according to data from the FDA.

One company has developed a rapid, on-farm diagnostics tool to provide livestock producers with more accurate disease detection to make more informed management and treatment decisions, which it says has demonstrated a 47% to 59% reduction in antibiotic usage. Such systems, combined with pressure or regulations to reduce antibiotic use in meat production, could also help turn the AMR tide.

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Breaking Down Data Silos Is the First Step

Adding to the complexity of the fight against AMR is the structure and culture of the global healthcare system itself. Historically, healthcare has been a siloed industry, notorious for its scattered approach focused on transactions rather than healthy outcomes or the true value of treatment. There’s no definitive data on the impact of AMR worldwide; the best we can do is infer estimates from the information that does exist.

The biggest issue is the availability of good data to share through mobile solutions, to drive HCI clinical-decision support tools, and to feed supercomputers and machine-learning platforms. “We have a fragmented healthcare delivery system and therefore we have fragmented information. Getting these sources of data all into one place and then enabling them all to talk to each other has been problematic,” McDonald says.

Collecting, integrating, and sharing AMR-related data on a national and ultimately global scale will be necessary to better understand the issue. HCI and mobile tools can help doctors, hospitals, and public health authorities collect more information while advanced analytics, machine learning, and in-memory computing can enable them to analyze that data in close to real time. As a result, we’ll better understand patterns of resistance from the bedside to the community and up to national and international levels, says Solomon. The good news is that new technology capabilities like AI and new potential streams of data are coming online as an era of data sharing in healthcare is beginning to dawn, adds McDonald.

The ideal goal is a digitally enabled virtuous cycle of information and treatment that could save millions of dollars, lives, and perhaps even civilization if we can get there. D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

About the Authors:

Dr. David Delaney is Chief Medical Officer for SAP.

Joseph Miles is Global Vice President, Life Sciences, for SAP.

Walt Ellenberger is Senior Director Business Development, Healthcare Transformation and Innovation, for SAP.

Saravana Chandran is Senior Director, Advanced Analytics, for SAP.

Stephanie Overby is an independent writer and editor focused on the intersection of business and technology.


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Former IBM employee pleads guilty to ‘economic espionage’ after stealing trade secrets for China

 Former IBM employee pleads guilty to ‘economic espionage’ after stealing trade secrets for China

A former developer for IBM pled guilty on Friday to economic espionage and to stealing trade secrets related to a type of software known as a clustered file system, which IBM sells to customers around the world.

Xu Jiaqiang stole the secrets during his stint at IBM from 2010 to 2014 “to benefit the National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China,” according to the U.S. Justice Department.

In a press release describing the criminal charges, the Justice Department also stated that Xu tried to sell secret IBM source code to undercover FBI agents posing as tech investors. (The agency does not explain if Xu’s scheme to sell to tech investors was to benefit China or to line his own pockets.)

Part of the sting involved Xu demonstrating the stolen software, which speeds computer performance by distributing works across multiple servers, on a sample network. The former employee acknowledged that others would know the software had been taken from IBM, but said he could create extra computer script to help mask his origins.

Xu, who is a Chinese national who studied computer science at the University of Delaware, will be sentenced on October 13.

The Justice Department’s press release does not identify IBM, but instead refers to “the Victim Company.” But other news outlets name IBM as the target of the theft, while a LinkedIn page with Xu’s name shows he worked at IBM as a file system developer during the relevant dates.

IBM did not immediately respond to request for comment on Sunday.

This isn’t the first time that Chinese nationals have carried out economic espionage against American companies. In 2014, the Justice Department charged five Chinese hackers for targeting U.S. nuclear and solar energy firms. And late last year, the agency charged three others for hacking U.S. law firms with the goal of trading on insider information that they obtained.

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017

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Increase employee engagement with Microsoft Dynamics 365

CRM Blog Increase employee engagement with Microsoft Dynamics 365

One of an entrepreneurs’ number one business goals is to increase revenue. However, to do so, these business owners need to also increase employee engagement so workers are more efficient and productive. Employees struggle to be productive when they’re not engaged in their workplace.

There are many ways to increase employee engagement, but here’s one many owners may not have thought of: upgrading their company’s current customer relationship management and/or enterprise resource planning tools – if they have them – to Microsoft Dynamics 365. This robust system can help them retain top employees, increase employee engagement and increase their worker’s flexibility to adjust quickly to a constantly changing business environment.

If you’re wondering why engagement levels are so important, it’s simple: Employees who aren’t engaged are less likely to produce quality work, and more likely to leave for other jobs. This can hurt a young company’s bottom line when it really needs the resources to grow and expand.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is not the future of business: It’s the now. It allows industry leaders to custom-build industry applications with ease and connect different areas of the business. This level of transparency doesn’t just allow employees to become engaged, it encourages them to do so. Learn More

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Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Employee Turnover

The topic of employee turnover should be taken seriously by all companies, because there are both direct and residual effects of a high turnover rate.

A little bit of turnover is unavoidable. No one can stick around forever, and sometimes what you thought was a good fit turns out to not be. A low rate of turnover is ok – you’ll survive. And there’s something invigorating about newcomers and new minds coming on board.

On the other hand, a company with a high turnover rate might need to take a closer look at what the underlying problem is.

Before we look at how to calculate turnover and ways you can reduce the problem in your company…

Definition of employee turnover

Employee turnover refers to the number or percentage of workers who leave an organization and are then replaced by new employees.

Essentially, it’s the number of employees that leave your company in a certain amount of time and need to be replaced.

The opposite of turnover is retention, which refers to the rate at which companies keep their employees.

We want to help you understand what turnover really means for an organization, and then offer tips on how to avoid it.

Employee turnover statistics

Employee turnover is incredibly costly, which is why HR departments and managers need to work toward keeping their team intact.

Bonusly offers some interesting statistics on turnover in the workforce:

infographic turnover Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Employee Turnover
In our own real-time report on the international State Of Employee Engagement, data reveals that universally, 15% of employees do not see themselves working at their company one year from now. Even scarier, according to Gallup, 51% of workers are looking to leave their current jobs. Yikes!

The question is, how expensive is turnover really?

Employee turnover costs

Unfortunately, this issue isn’t so black and white; there are many ways to evaluate the cost of turnover. And in addition to dollars and cents, there are other less tangible costs to consider.

These costs include:

  • Costs associated with hiring (job posts, interviews, technical tests, etc.)
  • Onboarding costs (employees aren’t “valuable” for at least 3 months)
  • Training costs
  • Lost time from other employees helping out with questions

This graph by Josh Bersin demonstrates it well.

graph cost employee Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Employee Turnover

For more specialized positions that take longer to fill, the cost of turnover is higher. For jobs that inherently have high turnover (retail, call centers, etc.) turnover costs will be lower.

To keep it simple, let’s look at a mid-range position. The cost to replace a manager making $ 40,000 a year would be $ 8,000, suggesting that employee turnover costs 20% of an employee’s annual salary.

Employee turnover rate calculation

Use the following formula to calculate turnover rate:

equation turnover Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Employee Turnover

Not a math person? That’s ok. We’ll break it down for you. Suppose you have a company with 200 employees, and 30 of them leave throughout the year. That would leave with you 170 employees, but of course, to fill the holes you bring new employees in (in this case, 25). This gives you a turnover rate of 15%.

Artboard 12 copy Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Employee Turnover

Is that good? Is that bad?

There is not a definitive answer on this because the truth is that it doesn’t only matter how many people leave, but who is leaving. If 15% of your top talent and execs are leaving, then yes, that is a problem. However, if 15% of your bottom-performing employees are leaving, you might even consider this exodus to be a positive thing, as it leaves room for new talent to come in.

According to Gallup, 10% would be the ideal rate, and that 10 % would ideally also be bottom performers.

Causes of employee turnover

There are many causes of employee turnover, but lumped together you might simply call it employee disengagement. Two of the biggest factors of turnover are problems at the hiring stage, and bad management.


According to the RainMaker Group, hiring problems account for 80% of employee turnover.

This is why it’s so important to make sure you have an amazing hiring process that is up-to-date with the latest technologies, and that considers things such as cultural fit and company alignment in addition to the experience.

Bad managers

Another significant cause of turnover is bad management.

The truth is that most people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses, which is quite sad because they might love their job and be really good at it.

At a previous job, five people quit over the course of two months. Each one announced an obscure reason for leaving, like focusing on other passions, moving to freelance, etc. All five left without having secured a new job, which seemed reckless, until it became clear, after a sixth person left, that their reason for leaving was unmentioned but unanimous: the boss. After the first employee mustered the courage to leave, it triggered a domino effect.

Can you imagine the stress that losing six team members caused for the remaining employees who had to pick up the slack; for the HR reps, who had to hire quickly but strategically; and for the manager, who had to train a slew of new employees? It’s a huge, time-consuming, discouraging setback.

How to reduce employee turnover

Focusing on employee engagement and personal growth for your employees will pay huge dividends for your team.

Here are a few ideas you can use to reduce your turnover:

  1. Improve the hiring process

    The hiring process is where it all begins, so it needs to happen properly. Make sure new hires are a good cultural fit and that they are aligned with the company’s mission and values in addition to considering their skill set and past experience in the field. It might take a bit more time to do the hiring process right, but it’s better to get it right the first time then have to do it over and over.

  2. Improve the onboarding process

    20% of employee turnover happens in the first 45 days, and a big part of that is due to improper onboarding. Be sure to set proper expectations, make them feel welcome, collect feedback, and touch base with them often.

  3. Train managers

    When you hire a manager or promote an employee to a managerial position, it’s important to consider more than just their skill set. There is an element of personality and psychology to leadership that is just as important to consider. Offering training for managers is one of the best ways to ensure that they can lead a team successfully. Things like emotional intelligence and empathy cannot necessarily be taught, but they should be considered during the hiring process.

  4. Give opportunity for growth

    What employees really want, as famously taught by Dan Pink, is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You can easily fulfill their need for mastery by letting them improve whatever skills they have for their job. It’s a win-win, because if they’re better at what they do, they’ll be more productive and feel encouraged to keep learning and improving.

    Offering your employees professional development opportunities shows them that you are invested in their future at the company, which will in turn inspire them to stay in the organization.

  5. Recognize employees

    Companies that scored in the top 20% for building a “recognition-rich culture” actually had 31% lower voluntary turnover rates, according to research by Josh Bersin.

    The research shows that it’s more important to receive recognition from peers than from top managers, so set up a way for employees to praise and recognize each other.

  6. Promote work-life balance

    Work-life balance is one of the most important parts of keeping your employees happy, healthy, and productive. Organizations are finally starting to understand to the importance of helping employees maintain a proper work-life balance to reduce stress and maintain a positive outlook when they go to work in the morning. Being mindful not to overwork your team and avoiding contacting them outside office hours is a great start, but you can also offer benefits such as gym memberships, proving that you care about both their mental and physical health.

  7. Collect frequent feedback

    Some companies still survey their employees only once a year, but employees need to be able to express themselves and offer feedback on a more frequent and regular basis. Employees want to be listened to and feel that their opinion matters. Collecting frequent feedback allows managers to act instantly on problems.

For more insight on employee retention, see 8 Employee Retention Facts That’ll Keep You Up At Night.


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