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What’s Trending in Big Iron to Big Data, Part 1: The Rise of Mainframe Data and Data Movement Technologies

This blog updates the article, “5 Big Iron to Big Data Trends to Watch” which appeared in Issue 1 (February 2017) of Enterprise Executive Magazine.

The mainframe’s longevity is no longer in question, but its role going forward may be very different. There is industry consensus, supported by numerous surveys and statistics, that the mainframe will continue to play a major role in enterprise infrastructure strategies – particularly in large corporations – for years to come. It’s also clear that the mainframe will continue to be the dependable workhorse for compute-intensive transactions, handling growing data volumes from diverse enterprise sources, including mobile and IoT.

The big question today is how the role of the mainframe is being impacted by evolving IT infrastructures and corporate demands on IT teams. Let’s look at what’s trending in Big Iron to Big Data right now.

The State of the Mainframe Focuses on Big Iron to Big Data

Syncsort recently published its second annual “State of the Mainframe” study, and it provides some interesting insights on trends that are, not surprisingly, top of mind at many of the world’s leading companies today. How do I know? Everyone in my organization, from support to development to sales and marketing, are hearing it from customers this year.

For the survey, Syncsort polled over 250 respondents including data architects, IT managers, developers, business intelligence/data analysts, and data scientists, with 86% coming from organizations with revenues of more than $ 100 million. The results show a precise picture of how large enterprises plan to use mainframes (and mainframe data) in 2017.

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Here’s the interesting part: The hottest trends uncovered by the survey and communicated as top priorities by customers this year reflect the opposite end of the powerful Big Iron compute equation. Mainframes are no longer just about storing and processing a sea of incoming data — though they most certainly still do that better than any other platform. This is evidenced by research from IBM, which found that 71% of the Fortune 500 rely on mainframe data to conduct 30 billion business transactions per day. Additionally there is BMC’s annual study, which finds that digital business has measurable effects on the demand for the mainframe to deliver fast, continuous service.

Another insight comes from Tim Grieser, Program VP for Enterprise System Management Software at International Data Corporation (IDC), who observed that “Mainframes play a key role in digital business as many digital applications are based on mobile or handheld device access to data stored on the mainframe. This is driving growth in mainframe transactions and data volumes.”

MF Quote What’s Trending in Big Iron to Big Data, Part 1: The Rise of Mainframe Data and Data Movement Technologies

So what else are Syncsort’s customers – many of them in banking, healthcare and insurance – focused on in 2017? Increasingly, they are recognizing the tremendous opportunity mainframe data can play as a data source for business analytics. Organizations are powering Big Data initiatives with this key customer and transaction data. It’s all about connecting Big Iron to Big Data.

Let’s look at two of the top 5 trends – both of which relate to the importance of key mainframe data in providing a comprehensive view for competitive advantage with business analytics.

Trend 1 — Mainframe Data Rising as Critical Component in Big Iron to Big Data Analytics

Big Data analytics for operational intelligence, security, and compliance are trending as a critical project in many organizations, particularly large enterprises. The abundance of information collected on z/OS is emerging as prime target to be leveraged for more valuable business insights.

More organizations are looking to exploit this information using analytics tools to provide enhanced visibility beyond what can be gained from traditional on-platform tools. Emerging analytics platforms such as Splunk provide the flexibility to allow data to be used for real-time, visual “dashboard” insights, as opposed to the static nature of display capabilities of existing mainframe tools. In Syncsort’s “State of the Mainframe” study, 60% of respondents indicated they intend to move data off the mainframe for analytics this year.

Many organizations are also investing in tools that can help them access and integrate mainframe data into emerging Big Data platforms like Hadoop, Spark, and Splunk. That’s why our partner Compuware recently announced the availability of Application Audit™, an innovative cybersecurity and compliance solution that dramatically enhances the ability of enterprises to stop insider threats by fully capturing and analyzing start-to-finish mainframe application user behavior. Application Audit’s integration with Syncsort Ironstream enables IT to more quickly discover and take action on security issues and application faults.

Related: New Ironstream Case Studies in Healthcare, Banking and Insurance

Trend 2 — Technologies that Enhance or Monitor Data Movement between Platforms Will Rise in Importance

Data movement across the variety of platforms in distributed enterprises is an important function that must be secured, monitored, and performed efficiently. Files moving onto or off a z/OS mainframe must be tracked to ensure that only authorized parties are initiating those transfers, that the security of the information, whether it be social security numbers, personal health information, or credit information, is protected from unauthorized access, and that the movement of data occurs in a manner which meets the requirements of the business without impacting delivery of IT services.

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Big Iron to Big Data Trend: The “State of the Mainframe Survey” showed that more than 60% of large organizations plan to move Big Iron data off-platform for Big Data analytics, with 23% already moving data to Hadoop. Recent visits to customer sites confirm this finding.

In addition, many companies are focused on populating Spark or Hadoop data lakes with enterprise-wide data for analytics, and want to include mainframe data in the mix. Technologies that can enhance and monitor data movement — including what, who, when, and how long — are going to get high priority in budget decisions. Increasingly, organizations are also investing in tools that help ensure data quality going in and out of the data lake, and validating and enriching the information in the data lake to ensure the data lake itself doesn’t become a “data swamp.”

Next week, in part 2, we’ll look at what else besides connecting Big Iron data to Big Data analytics is trending on mainframe in 2017.

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An Early Cloud ERP Adopter, GHA Technologies Grows Its VAR Business 5x

websitelogo An Early Cloud ERP Adopter, GHA Technologies Grows Its VAR Business 5x

Posted by Jack Bryant, Services Industry Marketing Manager

Value-added resellers deliver computing equipment, software and services that help organizations improve efficiency and visibility across their operations. VARs need those same capabilities themselves to thrive in a fast-paced and fiercely competitive industry that puts a premium on customer service.

GHA Technologies knows that first-hand. From its founding as a one-person shop in 1990, GHA has grown into a $ 141 million business reselling millions of products from 2,500 technology vendors such as Dell, HP, IBM, Cisco and Apple. Listed on the 2016 Inc. 5000 of America’s fastest-growing private companies, GHA has distinguished itself with a long history of superior customer service.

GHA Technologies is also distinguished by its early embrace of cloud ERP. In 2003, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based GHA was among the pioneering companies to abandon on-premise software and servers in favor of NetSuite’s cloud offering to run back-office operations.

George Hertzberg, GHA Technologies founder and president, credits the move to NetSuite as a key enabler of the 175-person company’s phenomenal success. GHA has increased revenue five-fold over its 13 years on NetSuite while expanding the customer base to more than 30,000.

“There’s no way we could have grown as much as we have without NetSuite,” said Hertzberg, who is featured in the NetSuite customer video below. “NetSuite’s scalability to handle growth, its speed and stability and on-demand reporting have been very valuable in enabling us to manage and grow the business.”

Before NetSuite, GHA struggled with a Sage Peachtree system that crashed frequently because of file size limitations. Required daily backups were time-consuming and unproductive, and reporting was slow and painful. GHA made the leap to the NetSuite cloud after examining on-premise Sage MAS 90 and Microsoft Dynamics GP applications.

GHA found in NetSuite an agile, unified platform that improved business performance across the board, from sales and order management to post-fulfillment support. Robust analytics, real-time data access and automated workflows that GHA enjoys with NetSuite are key ingredients in seamless customer-centric processes that drive repeat business and profitability.

“It’s all about exceptional service,” Hertzberg said. “That’s where NetSuite comes in for us. Everything has to flow as smooth as silk and NetSuite is at the core of that.”

Flexibility in the SuiteCloud development platform is another value-add for GHA Technologies. Using the NetSuite open API, NetSuite solution provider partner Explore Consulting was able to easily build a direct API connection with CNET ChannelOnline, a supplier network that provides GHA with access to accurate pricing and product data for its largest distributors.

Through that automation, GHA has shortened its sales cycles and saves as much as two hours per transaction per sales representative on the 1,500 transactions that GHA reps process monthly. With the time-savings gained through automation, reps can focus on more value-added tasks that deepen customer relationships.

With NetSuite, Hertzberg is confident that GHA has a flexible, future-proof platform ideally suited to support continued rapid growth and innovation.

“Technology professionals tell us, ‘You don’t know how many times you’ve saved us,’” Hertzberg said. “We’ve become a behind-the-scenes type of partner for them. That’s very similar to our relationship with NetSuite — they’re a behind-the-scenes partner for GHA Technologies.”

Posted on Wed, March 22, 2017
by NetSuite filed under

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SimilarTech’s profiler tells you all of the technologies that web companies are using

SimilarTech crawls the web to analyze what technologies are popular among web site operators. The company can track all of the technologies that a web site uses, and it ranks the web technologies in order of popularity.

As an example, SimilarTech tracks 60 payment technologies used across 2 million web sites. PayPal is the No. 1 vendor in the space, used at more than 1.01 million sites. If you look at the top 10,000 sites tracked by SimilarTech, then Alipay is in third place behind PayPal and PayPal Subscribe. You can also look at the rankings by the top million web sites or the entire Internet.

chen levanon 300x267 SimilarTech’s profiler tells you all of the technologies that web companies are using

Above: Chen Levanon, COO of SimilarTech.

SimilarTech indexes and tracks all of it. This becomes useful to sales people, recruiters, and business development professionals who want to size up the competition and help businesses find, qualify, and connect with new prospects, said Chen Levanon, chief operating officer at SimilarTech, in an interview with VentureBeat.

Overall, SimilarTech provides big data insights about technology adoption and usage analytics for the entire Internet, giving access to data that simply wasn’t available before. The insights are used by marketing and sales professionals for website profiling, lead generation, competitive analysis and business intelligence.

“What you’find is that everything changes when you go from the top 10,000 web sites to the entire Internet,” Levanon said. “We can show what the long tail looks like in the trends.”

With a single search, you can find out which publishers are currently using Outbrain’s plug-in, which recommends links at the end of web articles.

The SimilarTech platform can also provide you with leads, as it provides the names and emails of decision-makers.

The founders figured out that every web technology leaves a footprint. So it built crawlers that can scale massively and extract the data from millions of web sites every day.

Current customers using our insights include Facebook, PayPal, PlayBuzz and Google.

The platform has  a free version that lets users search for any website and see which technology they use, market trends, compare market share among different technologies, plus look at their geographic distribution and generate limited reports of leads.

The paid version starts at $ 290 per month and the price scales up as customers need bigger lists, geographic segmentation, and more in-depth reports on tech usage. You can see one example that compares the market share of Magento versus Shopify.

Yaniv Hadad and Eyal Weiss started the company in Israel. Levanon was the founder of performance mobile ad platform ClicksMob, and she sold the company to AppGrade in March. She joined SimilarTech in August as a cofounder and COO in San Francisco, while the rest of the company remains in Israel.

“No other company in the world provides the level of detail we show on technology usage, which includes the ability to segment companies by geography, web traffic and compatibility with specific technology stack,” Levanon said. “There is an enormous demand for our insights, coming mostly from software companies that need to get more sophisticated when it comes to finding, qualifying and connecting with leads based on the technological DNA of their company.”

similartech 3 2 800x441 SimilarTech’s profiler tells you all of the technologies that web companies are using

Above: SimilarTech cofounders Yaniv Hadad(left) and Eyal Weiss

Image Credit: SimilarTech

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Digital Technologies Must Disappear in 2017

ThinkstockPhotos 499232536 Digital Technologies Must Disappear in 2017
Almost a year ago, I wrote these words, “Technology has reached the tipping point for me, it moved from a help to a hindrance.”  The plethora of adrenaline and endorphin inducing mobile apps, 24×7 news, notifications, alerts and updates, drip fed my brain and hindered my “deep work and deep thoughts.”  In Cal Newport’s new book titled, “Deep Work” he posits that most knowledge workers need concentration and substantial time, dedicated and uninterrupted, to produce their best work. He argues that a lot of technologies and open office layouts today inhibit creativity, “deep work” and “deep thoughts,” and are the very things that are most highly valued, and one of the key differentiators between humans and robots.

Newport argues that we must understand and optimize the conditions that enable our brains to work best.  To sum up his argument, constant drip feeding technologies serve to prevent deep thoughts and deep work, our most valuable assets.  He recommends that we restructure our working environments, schedules, times, activities and technology uses to provide substantial “deep thought” times so we can maximize our brain’s thinking.

A phrase I like to use is, “Just because technology can do it, doesn’t make it useful.”  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of technology and have dedicated my career to understanding, teaching and using it, but we must all realize that technology has not been designed to maximize our brain’s potential.  Often technology is designed to replace or degrade our brain’s function, or to appeal to our addictive vulnerabilities.  Have any of you, like me, lost themselves in a computer game, and then realized it was 4 AM?  I did that when Doom first came out decades ago.  I realized early on my brain was vulnerable to these games, and banished them from our home ever since, at least until Angry Birds came out on my iPhone and I welcomed back 4 AM.

In our professional life, it is so easy to let our email inbox and calendar invites become our boss and dictate our day’s focus.  Do any of us really believe this is the most productive behavior?  Does our inbox recognize our priorities, goals, focus, deliverables and ambitions?  I don’t think so, so then why let it boss us around?

If we added up all of the mobile apps we have on our phones, then list all the possible alerts and notifications they each can provide, plus add in how many emails, messages and updates we see, and then add our social media and news feeds, it will literally be hundreds or even thousands of distractions daily.  Do these distractions make us more productive or efficient?  I don’t think so.

In 2017, we need to reevaluate technology and take back our brains and purpose.  We should be guiding our technologies, not the other way around.  Technology needs to disappear into the background, while productivity and purpose should be our siren’s call. We have approximately 700,000 hours between our birth and our death. About 350,000 of those hours are spent in our careers. How many of those hours do we want to waste on technology enabled distractions? I first published some of the following list nearly a year ago, but I needed the reminder, and perhaps it would be helpful for you as well.  I propose the following:

  1. Our schedules and activities must reflect our purpose and goals, not our inbox and social media feeds.
  2. We must recognize what activities offer value, and what activities do not.
  3. We shouldn’t have to read through hundreds of useless email messages to find the three necessary to complete our job. Communications need to change and email must disappear behind a veil of utility and productivity.
  4. Someone emailing us, does not mean we need to respond.  
  5. We shouldn’t have to check dozens of different locations, apps and websites to communicate with our work colleagues and friends. All of these various collaboration and communication platforms need to disappear into a consolidated and efficient aggregated solution like Slack.
  6. Communication technologies should disappear into the background, and the quality and utility of the message improved by technologies.
  7. Email and meeting driven schedules must disappear, in favor of schedules that honor purpose and deliverables.
  8. Prioritize thinking time and mental productivity, and dedicate the time they deserve.
  9. Scientists agree that the creative parts of our minds work better at different times of the day. Those times need to be reserved, blocked and honored on schedules, to optimize productivity.
  10. The requirement to develop, store and retrieve dozens of different passwords and user names must disappear. The ability to accurately authenticate a user must become more efficient and secure.
  11. Trivial messages and alerts from hundreds of different sources arriving 24 hours a day must disappear. Trivial messages and an urge to immediately respond must not be allowed to intrude on our thinking, creating, planning, sleeping, loving, relationship building, driving and the handling of dangerous equipment.
  12. On-premise IT solutions, hardware and apps that serve to distract from the business, and offer no additional business value, competitive advantages or market agility must disappear into the cloud.
  13. The 200+ mobile applications on my iPhone must disappear into an artificial intelligence engine that will access their functionality and assist me even before I ask.
  14. Mobile applications that are not personalized, and are not contextually relevant should disappear. I don’t care what you sell, if I am not interested, or it is not relevant to me, I don’t want to see it.
  15. The routine process work I do on my computer must go away. Intelligent process automation should be pushed down to individuals. An AMX mobile app should process my expenses without me. It should only alert me to exceptions, not the routine.
  16. Technologies and the use of technologies that hinder creativity, productivity and innovation must disappear.

In the lifecycle of any technology, there is a time when we should be enamored and distracted by how it works, but these times must quickly pass and the technology should disappear into the background. I propose that digital technologies should improve and optimize our brain power, and make the human experience richer, deeper and more purposeful than ever before.  This year, I am more committed than ever to making technology work for me, not against me, by being less intrusive and distracting.  What do you think? Message me.

************************************************************************

Kevin Benedict
Senior Analyst, Center for the Future of Work, Cognizant Writer, Speaker and World Traveler
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

Navigate the challenges of location-based technologies

TTlogo 379x201 Navigate the challenges of location based technologies

As the popularity of Google Maps, Snapchat and Pokémon Go has made clear, location-based technologies have revolutionized how people use mobile phones. By 2018, there will be 2.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, according to eMarketer Inc. They will be navigating to restaurants, Snapchatting their vacations, checking movies playing at the nearest cinema, RSVPing on Meetup or looking up product availability at area Walmart stores.

According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of smartphone owners use them to get information related to their location. Now, companies are starting to tap the location-based services (LBS) on consumers’ phones in order to send them relevant offers and messages. According to the Location Based Marketing Association’s (LBMA) latest trends report, 75% of marketers agree and believe that location-based marketing is an important business issue for 2016.

Location-based technologies use wireless transmission, such as between a smartphone and a beacon or Wi-Fi access point, to pinpoint a user’s location. A mobile app that has access to a phone’s location services can provide navigation as well as location-specific content, like coupons or product reviews. In fact, there are myriad uses for LBS in marketing, advertising and customer engagement.

MEPLAN GmbH, a German trade services provider, created the expoNAVIGATION app to help conference attendees find their favorite exhibitors faster. A user searches a database of exhibitors and enters a list of those he wants to visit. The app uses beacons to plot the shortest route around the floor, thus optimizing the customer’s time and, hopefully, boosting sales for exhibitors.

The Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA), based in Hillarys, Australia, has a mobile app that guides visitors along several themed tours (like the Shipwreck Coast or Animal Extremes tours) with interactive activities for kids. Created by Apps Ppl, a developer of cloud-based mobile apps, the AQWA app is part of a larger mobile app — “Everythere” — that tourists use to research activities around Perth and to get directions.

Location is the only piece of data that lets you know where people are throughout the day so you can engage [with] them. Asif Khanpresident, Location Based Marketing Association

But it’s the ability to combine location data with other customer information collected from a mobile app or store loyalty program that has the biggest potential for personalizing how businesses engage with their customers. People often use smartphones to browse the web, make online purchases and pay at the checkout counter. That information, and more, can be accessed and used to understand the buyer’s habits and shopping preferences.

“[LBS] can tie your entire marketing strategy together,” said Asif Khan, president of the LBMA. “We’re using location to blend brick and mortar with e-commerce and digital.”

The data can also be aggregated and combined with other consumer information and used to analyze consumer behaviors and trends.

Investment in location-based technologies will rise significantly in the near future, according to Juniper Research Ltd., based in Hampshire, England. The firm expects the LBS market to jump from $ 12.2 billion in 2014 to $ 43.3 billion by 2019, with context-aware mobile services being the main driving force.

Potholes in the road to location-based technologies

Nevertheless, businesses have been cautious about adopting LBS, despite their interest. Forrester Research’s report “Make Smart Wireless Location Technology Decisions” found that just 3% of businesses surveyed were actually using beacons, while another 11% were piloting them.

This is because location-based services are actually a collection of technologies — some old, some new and others still in research and development. It’s a rapidly developing market, one that can quickly confound an unsuspecting marketer or business owner.

The most common technologies are the following:

GPS: GPS systems are commonly used for maps and other outdoor navigation. They can’t penetrate walls and aren’t accurate enough for use in small spaces, so they’re not used for indoor tracking.

Wi-Fi: Already generally offered free to customers, Wi-Fi is often used for simple tracking of store traffic. One downside is it can’t identify unique individuals if they’re using an iPhone, and accuracy can vary.

Bluetooth beacons: Used primarily for indoor navigation, beacons have an accuracy range of one to several meters, depending on the product and whether fingerprinting or triangulation techniques are also used. Available in sizes as small as a matchbook, they can be hidden behind pictures or in lights. According to Forrester’s June 2016 report “Make Smart Wireless Location Decisions,” some beacons can send only basic data and can’t accept updates, while others are more flexible. Beacons also require maintenance.

“You have to place them, manage them, change batteries in them. They’re operationally intensive,” explained Andre Kindness, principal analyst at Forrester, which estimated an annual maintenance cost of $ 240,000 for keeping beacons operational in a 1,000-square-meter store versus $ 60,000 for Wi-Fi. On the other hand, Wi-Fi nodes run $ 900 a piece, according to the same study.

Two emerging technologies are visible light, emitted via smart LED lights and potentially capable of tracking with an accuracy of a few centimeters, and ultrasound waves, which send out chirps that are picked up by a phone’s audio receiver.

Both are promising technologies, said Bruce Krulwich, chief analyst at New York-based Grizzly Analytics Ltd., which specializes in mobile technologies like location-based services and IoT. However, both have their drawbacks, as well. For visible light, businesses have to replace their lighting with smart LED lights and controllers. Meanwhile, ultrasound may trip on other ambient sounds.

With more work, however, both may achieve performance better than today’s Bluetooth-based solutions, said Krulwich.

Fear of big brother

Consumer concerns about privacy are another challenge for location-based technologies. To work well, the apps need access to the phone’s location services, and consumers can deny apps access. According to the Pew Research Center, over one-third of adults and 46% of teenagers turn off location services due to fears over privacy.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) mobile app requires both Bluetooth and location services to be fully functional. To encourage participation, the museum pre-empted the usual terse system messages users get asking if they want to share location data with one that asks, “Would you like to receive location-based data?”

“We created it to be less intimidating,” said Tomas Garcia, digital media product developer at LACMA. He added that it’s also faster than using individual service prompts.

In fact, users will give up their location data for the right incentive. A Forrester brief, “Fuel Contextual Marketing with Location Data,” found that most phone owners would do so in exchange for benefits like discounts, a loyalty program, rewards for visiting a store or to get navigational aid in a store.

A location-based future?

Location is rapidly becoming the most valuable piece of information for consumer marketing.

Social media platforms and many mobile apps, like weather and news, already collect a user’s location information, said Khan, and they make it available in aggregate form to advertisers.

“We describe location as the cookie for the physical world. Location is the only piece of data that lets you know where people are throughout the day so you can engage [with] them,” he said.

Behavioral data, such as location, is fast becoming more important in marketing than standard demographics, said Maribel Lopez, head of mobile marketing research firm Lopez Research, based in San Francisco.

“Behavioral demographics are much more interesting,” said Lopez. “You may find that Android users do this, iOS users do that, people who are in my store 10 minutes do one thing, while those who stay much longer do another.”

But that also means marketers must think through their messages to target customers’ preferences without making them feel stalked.

“The greatest challenge will be to figure out what messages you want to send and where,” said Lopez. “It’s the most contextual engagement you can have, and people expect engagement, not a generic message or coupon.” 

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Disruptive Technologies Drive Efficiency at Maclaren

Posted by Ranga Bodla, Industry Marketing Lead, NetSuite

maclaren Disruptive Technologies Drive Efficiency at MaclarenStaying ahead of the competition demands innovative thinking and speed in adopting new strategies and technologies. It often means being among the first to envision a new market, rethink a business model, or implement a strategic new technology. Successful companies welcome intelligent changes in their business. But it’s likely that few companies would embrace the range of technology changes quite as whole-heartedly as Maclaren, a British-based global manufacturer of baby strollers and accessories.

For the past eight years, Maclaren has reduced costs and improved productivity through the implementation of “disruptive” technologies – those that remake markets and shakeup the status quo. To Jim Ramsey, Maclaren’s global head of technology, the main motivation for this approach is simple: efficiency. 

“The more digital you are, the more efficient you can be,” Ramsey explained to Dirk Beveridge of UnleashWD. “We’ve become a very technology-oriented company. Everything we do is based on today’s technology. We’re a digital company, and that’s the way of our future.”

An example of how Maclaren leverages disruptive technology to be more efficient are its telephones. Like most corporations, Maclaren had a corporate land-line phone system. But that changed when one executive jokingly suggested Skype, and the others agreed. After an evaluation showed Skype could meet Maclaren’s needs, at nearly zero cost, the $ 100,000 phone system was out and free Skype applications were on everyone’s desktops. Today, only 15 percent of employees have a telephone on their desks. It’s a change that saves them $ 75,000 a year.

Maclaren has been a technology leader since its beginning 50 years ago, when its founder, a British air force pilot and aeronautics engineer, invented the first foldable umbrella stroller using aviation grade aluminum to make a strong but lightweight frame. Today, it fosters a corporate culture that embraces technology change as a crucial foundation for success.

“It’s constantly changing, trying to stay ahead of the curve, and we’re doing what we can digitally to enhance the business—whether that’s enhancing the customer experience, or improving the way staff work,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey credits the company with foreseeing the cloud computing trend early on, first using hosting providers, then moving to software-as-a-service (SaaS) and, in 2014, migrating everything over to NetSuite’s cloud-based ERP and ecommerce platform.

Today, the company’s B2B and B2C ecommerce, inventory management, order management, marketing, warehouse management, manufacturing, customer support, sales management and financials are in the cloud. With everything in one integrated system, employees can work anywhere in the world, on the same applications with the same version of data. No data to input or reports to reconcile —and no need to get to the office to access important projects or information.

Having a virtual, mobile desktop boosts productivity as well as customer service. For executives like Ramsey who manage global organizations and deal with multiple time zones, it’s become an essential capability.

“Whether I’m sitting here in California or in Hong Kong, or the U.K. or Moscow, I can get to work. Everything I want is at my fingertips,” said Ramsey, pointing to the nearly round-the-clock collaboration that can occur between Maclaren’s four product development teams, all located in different parts of the world: “They’re all in different time zones, so when they work on an engineering document, it’s saved to our system and any of them can get to it when they need it.”

Cloud computing also relieves Maclaren of the cost of maintenance.

“Everything we do is outsourced. Costs are a lot less, the maintenance is a lot easier, support is easier, because you’re not always customizing things,” he explained.

And contrary to how IT normally handles a new ERP implementation, Maclaren uses everything “out of the box” and discourages departments from requesting alterations. There’s no reason not to adjust your old processes to fit the new – possibly better – ones in the software, he believes. So only obvious or critical customizations are allowed.

It not only simplifies the monthly updates but makes training virtually cost-free. “You can point them to YouTube and say ‘Here’s your training’. I don’t need to pay for trainers to come in,” he explained.

The latest technology change is a new B2B ecommerce portal, which enables Maclaren’s partners to place orders and manage their accounts online. That has helped to free sales staff from having to input orders coming in over the phone, fax or email, which was the usual way that small and midsized customers—about 80 percent of all Maclaren’s partners—placed orders.

The new portal includes account management features ranging from account status, product tracking, real-time inventory information, product returns, and, for those that need live help, a click-to-chat feature. That frees up time spent answering simple questions and allows more time for cultivating new customers.

“For the most part, there’s really no need for [customers] to talk to somebody. We’re a digital world at this point,” he said.

All of these technology adoptions have made Maclaren more flexible and able to respond quicker to problems or market changes, and enabled leaner and more efficient operations… so much so that Maclaren’s employee headcount is only a third of what it was eight years ago.

“We’re doing things today with much less staff than what we were doing years ago, and the reason is, we took that chance on doing things digitally,” said Ramsey. “We produce more, we sell more, and we do more with fewer people because of the changes we’ve made.”

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5 Technologies That Will Transform Your Business Decisions

The lines between the digital and physical customer experience today are largely artificial. Customers shop in retail stores with their devices at the ready. They expect online-like personalization and recommendations in the aisles. They’re looking for instant gratification and better sensory experiences from digital channels. It’s an omnichannel world and companies must figure out how to live in it: delivering a superior customer experience regardless of the entry point.

Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, for example, opened its first three retail stores with the intent of taking customers’ best online experiences and bringing them to life. “In the past, you had this brick-and-mortar experience, and you had the online experience,” says company president Uri Minkoff. “There were such great advantages and efficiencies that emerged with shopping online. You could get recommendations, see how something should be styled, create wish lists, access user-generated content. In the store, it was still just you and the product, and maybe a sales associate. But [unlike online] you had all five of your senses.”

Rebecca Minkoff’s new stores still stimulate those senses while incorporating some of the intelligence that online channels typically bring to bear. Each store features a large interactive screen at the entrance, where customers can browse products or order a beverage. Shoppers can interact with salespeople or they can make purchases on a mobile app without ever talking to a soul. Inside a fitting room, RFID-tagged merchandise is displayed on an interactive mirror, where customers can request new sizes or the designer’s recommended coordinates (a real-life recommendation engine).

The company has found that 30% of women ask for additional items based on the recommendations. It has also sold three times more of its new ready-to-wear line than it anticipated. “We were an accessories-dominant brand,” says Minkoff. “But we’ve been able to build this direct relationship with our customers, helping them with outfit completers and also getting a better sense of what they want based on what’s actually happening in our fitting rooms.”

Each piece of technology adds to the experience while capturing the details. Rebecca Minkoff’s integrated systems can remember a customer’s previous visits and preferred colors and sizes, and can enable associates to set up a fitting room with appropriate garments. On the back end, the company gets the kind of visibility into in-store conversions once possible only in digital transactions. “The technology gives us the ability to create the kind of experience each customer wants. She can shop anonymously or be treated like a VIP,” says Minkoff.

sap Q316 digital double feature3 images1 5 Technologies That Will Transform Your Business Decisions

Build Around a Big Idea

Rebecca Minkoff’s approach is a bellwether. It’s not enough simply to provide continuity or consistency from one channel to another. Customers don’t think in terms of channels, and neither should companies. Rather, it’s about defining the overarching experience you want to deliver to customers and then building the appropriate offline and online elements to achieve that intended outcome.

As more goods and even services are commoditized, companies must compete on the experiences they create (see The ROI of Customer Experience). That means coming up with a big idea that drives the design of the customer experience. “Every great experience needs to have a theme,” says Joe Pine, consultant and coauthor of The Experience Economy and Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier. “That’s the organizing principle of the experience. It’s how you decide what’s in and what’s out.”

For example, Rebecca Minkoff serves as an image consultant to its Millennial customers, who expect personalization, recognition, and tech innovation, using a mix of online and offline techniques. To stand apart, companies must come up with their own unifying idea and then integrate data and systems, rework organizational models, and rethink key strategic metrics and employee incentives in order to integrate the physical and digital worlds around that idea.

Here are some examples of companies that have created a theme-driven experience using online and offline elements.

Nespresso: Imparting a Sense of Luxury

At the most basic level, Nespresso is a manufacturer of coffee and coffee machines. But the company has successfully turned what it sells and how it sells it into a very specific type of experience. Nespresso strives to impart a feeling of quality, exclusivity, even luxury in a host of ways.

sap Q316 digital double feature3 images2 5 Technologies That Will Transform Your Business DecisionsThe company has created the Nespresso Club, which maintains direct relationships with thousands of customers. Its customer service centers are staffed by 1,000 highly trained coffee experts who don’t just push products but offer advice and guidance as a sommelier might do with wine. Its 450 retail stores (up from just one Parisian in 2000) are called boutiques; the largely inventory-free showrooms are built around tasting and learning.

Online, the focus is on efficiency and service. Customers who prefer digital interactions can order through the web site or mobile app, which offers the option of courier delivery within a two-hour window. The company also recently introduced a Bluetooth-enabled coffee machine, which when paired with a smartphone app, can track a customer’s usage, simplify machine maintenance, and as Wired pointed out, enable remote brewing.

Success didn’t happen overnight, but today Nespresso is one of Nestlé’s fastest growing and most profitable brands, according to Bloomberg.

QVC: Using Online to Complement the Experience

The theme that has driven television-shopping giant QVC’s customer experience for decades has been “inspiration and entertainment.” Traditionally that was delivered through the joy of spontaneous discovery while watching the channel.

Matching that experience online has been difficult, however. At a digital retail conference in 2015, QVC’s CEO explained that in the past the company had failed to deliver the same rich interactions online that it had developed with its TV audiences, according to Total Retail. So the company decided to rethink its use of digital tools to focus on complementing the experience it delivers through TV screens, according to RetailWire.

For example, after enticing TV viewers with products, QVC introduces the next step in the buying journey—“impulse to buy”—in which viewers are spurred on with televised countdown clocks or limited merchandise availability. Online, the company has been experimenting with second-screen content (for instance, recipes that compliment a cooking product being sold on TV) to further propel purchases. The QVC app features the same item that is on-air along with a prompt that reveals all the items featured on TV in recent hours. On Apple devices equipped with Touch ID, customers can check out in less than 10 seconds with the fingerprint-enabled “speed buy” button. The third phase—“purchase and receive”—is complemented by a simple and reliable online browsing and purchasing platform. The last stage—“own and enjoy”—is accompanied by follow-on e-mail communication with tips on how to use products.

Last year, the company reported that 44% of total QVC sales came from online channels (up from 40% in 2014), and nearly half of those were completed on a mobile device. In fact, QVC is currently the tenth largest mobile commerce retailer in the United States, according to Internet Retailer.

Domino’s: Focusing on Speed and Convenience

sap Q316 digital double feature3 images3 5 Technologies That Will Transform Your Business DecisionsDomino’s Pizza built a fast-food empire not necessarily on the quality of its pies but instead on the experience of getting hot food delivered quickly. What started out as a promise to deliver a pizza within 30 minutes to customers who phoned in their order is now a themed experience of efficient food delivery that can be fulfilled a number of ways. Domino’s AnyWare project enables customers to order pizzas from their TV, their Twitter account, their smartwatch, or their connected car, for starters. The Domino’s app features zero-click ordering functionality: Domino’s will start fulfilling the usual order for customers who opt in 10 seconds after opening the app.

Domino’s Australian stores are piloting GPS tracking whereby employees begin working on an order only when the customer enters the “cook zone”—a dynamically updated area around a given store that results in the customer arriving to a just-prepared order. The tool builds upon previously developed GPS-based technology for tracking delivery drivers, according to ZDNet. And the company that came up with the corrugated pizza box and the Heatwave Bag to keep pies warm is now building the DXP—a delivery car with a built-in warming oven. All in the name of the fast- and hot-food delivery experience.

Mohawk Industries: Using Social to Streamline Customer Interactions

Mohawk Industries grew to become a US$ 8 billion flooring manufacturer by relying on customers to visit its dealers’ retail locations to see, touch, and feel the carpet, hardwood, laminate, or tile they planned to purchase.

sap Q316 digital double feature3 images4 5 Technologies That Will Transform Your Business DecisionsToday, instead of waiting for customers to find Mohawk, it has redesigned its experience to find them. It has adopted new technology and reworked its sales processes to reflect that new focus. The company’s 1,200 sales representatives have access to a 360-degree view of each customer, complete with analytics and sales tools on their tablets, enabling them to capture and follow through on leads generated through social media engagement.

By analyzing online discussions in real time, representatives can jump into the conversation and help customers find the product they may be searching for and direct the consumer to a retailer to finish the sale. In one episode, a woman was posting about her interest in a particular leopard rug on Twitter. Mohawk’s team surfaced the tweet, passed it on to a channel partner who contacted the woman and closed the sale within two minutes. Today, the company boasts an 80% close rate on sales started and guided in social media and has made $ 8 million on 14,000 such social leads. Mohawk Industries expects an increase of $ 25 million in sales year-over-year, thanks to its new customer-centric approach.

Customer Experience Design: Where to Begin

Developing a unique, valuable, and relevant customer experience that combines the best of offline and online capabilities is a huge undertaking. All corporate functions, including marketing, customer service, sales, operations, finance, and HR as well as product or business lines—all of which typically have competing metrics and agendas—must buy into the experience and collaborate to make it happen. And the ideal mix of digital and physical components will vary by company. But there are some best practices to get companies started on their own journeys.

Start at the Top

Without leadership buy-in, changes will not happen. “Customer experience is not a feature, it’s not a shiny button. It’s a concept that sometimes is tough to grasp. But we believe that if done right, it will keep customers loyal. And so we put a lot of effort into it,” says Kevin Scanlon, director of total customer experience at tech company EMC. “That’s why having that top-down support is paramount. If you don’t have it, you’re spinning your wheels. It’s going to give you the resources, the focus, and the attention that you need to design that consistent experience.”

To demonstrate its commitment, every VP and above at EMC has a customer experience metric as part of their quarterly goal.

Begin with the End in Mind

Companies can take a page from the design-thinking approach to product development, starting with the experience they want customers to have with their company and then putting in place the people, processes, and systems to make that happen across various touchpoints. Uber didn’t start by buying 1,000 cars. It started with a completely new customer experience it wanted to deliver—straddling the digital and physical—and then built the organization around that. Uber ultimately leveraged people, process, and technology to bring that to life, but it started with a unique customer journey.

Design for the Customer, Not the Company

sap Q316 digital double feature3 images5 5 Technologies That Will Transform Your Business DecisionsTo date, most corporate processes have been designed for internal efficiency or cost savings with little consideration for the impact on the customer. Companies that want to design for consistent experiences have to reexamine those business processes from the customer perspective. In order to deliver a standout and consistent experience, enterprises must bring together an assortment of data from a variety of systems—including POS transactions, mobile purchases, call center activity, notes from sales calls, and social media.

The average retailer has customer data in more than a dozen different systems. But it’s not just the front-end customer-facing systems that need orchestrating; back office systems and processes, from your supply chain to fulfillment to customer service, must be designed to deliver the intended experience. For example, Nespresso has to orchestrate a number of back-end and front-end systems to offer customers premium courier delivery within two-hour windows.

Put Someone in Charge

Companies that are truly invested in creating integrated, standout customer experiences often create a centralized function that can bring together the people, processes, and technology to bring them to life. Sometimes there is a chief customer officer or head of customer experience. But unless these people are really empowered, they’re toothless.

EMC’s Scanlon is empowered. He heads up a function that has been transformed from focusing on product quality into a centralized customer experience center of excellence staffed with 60 full-time professionals. The center has translated into “more focus, more energy, more insight to our customers,” says Scanlon. “And we can deliver that insight to our internal stakeholders, which trickles down to our account teams and lets them have more meaningful conversations that benefit our customers—and benefit the company over time.”

Centralize Customer Data

Even if there is no central customer experience function, there needs to be a central data repository and analytics system: a digital foundation that everyone can use to improve their piece of that experience. EMC’s customer experience group has a data governance function that maintains a single source of customer truth. “They’re able to pull all relevant data sources into one location and get past the typical customer data challenges,” says Scanlon.

Invest in People

Companies that care about the customer experience invest in the people who deliver it. Human beings are the clearest signposts on the customer journey. Companies must hire the best, train for desired outcomes, and reward based on experience metrics: for being brand ambassadors and for going above and beyond on behalf of the customer.

sap Q316 digital double feature3 images6 5 Technologies That Will Transform Your Business DecisionsRethink Metrics and Incentives

One major bank was having trouble driving adoption of its online banking tools. The customers that used the tools loved them, but the tools weren’t getting traction. The problem? The branch managers had no interest in promoting digital banking. They wanted to drive as much traffic as possible to their physical branches because this was one of their key performance metrics.

The solution was to change the compensation approach in order to reward employees for the entire customer experience, including online banking adoption. Branch managers were measured on online and offline customer behavior in their regions. That became a single and critical KPI, and it boosted the desired behaviors and improved overall customer satisfaction.

Create a Single View of the Company

For years, companies have talked about the importance of understanding the customer. And that remains true, particularly when it comes to delivering a valuable customer experience online and off. But successful customer experience design is just as much about giving customers a clear understanding of the company through coordinated experiences that deliver on the brand’s theme and bring it to life in various ways in bricks and mortar, through devices, in online interactions, and everywhere in between. D!

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

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Avastone Technologies to Merge with Heartland Business Systems

CRM Blog Avastone Technologies to Merge with Heartland Business Systems

Heartland Business Systems, LLC (“HBS”) has entered into an agreement to merge all assets of Avastone Technologies, LLC, including name, physical assets, resources and customers. This is an exciting time for everyone associated with the two companies, as the consolidation officially aligns the HBS brand vision for accelerating innovation and enabling the digital enterprise for all customers in all markets HBS currently supports.

Avastone Technologies’ customers are expected to benefit greatly from this acquisition, as it will provide expanded service offerings into the full solution set from HBS. For HBS, customers previously unfamiliar with Avastone Technologies, LLC will now have enhanced visibility into the application development, data, and Microsoft solutions stack. HBS intends to preserve and enhance the customers’ investments in the solutions historically provided by Avastone Technologies, LLC as they have done with other acquisitions.

As we continue to support and service our loyal customers, it’s important we’re viewed as one company — a single source for consulting, design, resources and delivery. HBS is dedicated to maintaining and increasing the quality of innovation, support, and service you have come to expect from Avastone Technologies, LLC. We will continue to post educational and resourceful information on this blog under the Heartland Business Systems name.

To learn more about Heartland Business Systems, LLC, please visit www.hbs.net.

For assistance with any IT Solutions or Services contact Heartland Business Systems at 800-236-7914

by Heartland Business Systems

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Get hands-on with intelligent technologies at the Microsoft Data Science Summit

social default image Get hands on with intelligent technologies at the Microsoft Data Science Summit

There’s a new opportunity for business analysts, data scientists, and big data engineers happening right alongside Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta this fall.

On September 26–27, the Microsoft Data Science Summit will host an interactive event on the disruptive technologies and innovative solutions in big data, advanced analytics, and machine learning.

It’s an intensive two days with:

  • Hands-on labs with Cortana Intelligence Suite, Microsoft R Server, and open-source technologies
  • Real code, real products, and real-world examples
  • Keynotes and talks from industry visionaries and top Microsoft experts
  • Relaxed opportunities to connect with peers and Microsoft product experts

Join us. See what’s possible in big data, analytics, and BI now.

As a business analyst working with multiple data sources and creating the reports and visualizations that your colleagues rely upon to make the best business decisions, the Micrsoft Data Science Summit offers you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the latest products and services that integrate with PowerBI. This is the chance to step upstream in the data chain and gain a greater understanding of where and how data is managed, accessed, manipulated, and delivered to the tool you know best, Power BI. So if you’re a business analyst who wants insights into the latest big data, machine learning, and open-source technologies, join us. We’ll have three in-depth tracks so you can get the knowledge and hands-on experience you want for your business: Advanced Analytics, Big Data, and Solutions. Take a look at all three tracks to find the best match for your needs.

Register soon. September 26–27 is approaching fast. We look forward to talking data with you in Atlanta!

Register for the Microsoft Data Science Summit

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CRM gets smart with artificial intelligence technologies

TTlogo 379x201 CRM gets smart with artificial intelligence technologies

SugarCRM Inc. co-founder Clint Oram recalled discussing the potential of CRM systems to predict sales with machine learning more than 15 years ago.

“Sitting around as a product manager, kicking around the ideas that are coming out today, the limiting factor back then was technology was really hard to deploy and extremely expensive,” Oram said. “What’s changed? Software as a service, mobile and social all became prominent.”

Back then, CRM systems were mostly on premises and operated as Excel replacements and static data-entry systems. Then, cloud-based CRM entered the scene and opened the door to modern tools underpinned by machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies.

Now, as industry leaders like Salesforce acquire data intelligence companies, there’s a move toward creating cloud-based CRM systems that act as digital assistants, rather than data input tools.

“Gone are the days where CRM is just a database,” said Jon Lee, co-founder and CEO of ProsperWorks Inc., based in San Francisco. “There has to be some inherent value. Managers know what the general practices in sales should be through decades of doing it, and tuning your algorithms around those best practices gets you 80% there. I think the big opportunity to optimize is using the data available to us to notice things we haven’t noticed before to get us the other 20%.”

AI technologies driven by data

Artificial intelligence (AI) is booming. According to research by Gartner, 20% of business content will be created by machines by 2018, and 6 billion connected devices will require the ability to connect and share data with other devices.

Gone are the days where CRM is just a database. There has to be some inherent value. Jon Leeco-founder and CEO, ProsperWorks

CRM professionals point to two primary developments that fuel the increase of artificial intelligence technologies. First, there’s the increase in vast amounts of data that needs sorting and understanding. Then, there’s the move to cloud CRM systems, which enables the intake and dissection of data from dozens of digital sources.

“You can’t draw machine-based learning conclusions off small data sets,” Oram said. “We’re at the front end of massive data sets and big data driving the next evolution of CRMs. You can see the need for AI coming on the heels of that.”

There are dozens of sources online from which CRM companies can draw information, including social sites like Facebook and Twitter. They can also utilize public records, including police reports, court records or property-ownership records.

With all the information across devices and platforms available, it does a company little good if it doesn’t have a way to integrate the data into its CRM. That’s where the advancement in cloud CRM tools helped set the stage for the need for AI.

“In the past, it was on-premises software, and there was more friction and larger wall between data and third-party apps,” Lee said. “The access to data increased dramatically, and, in the past, that required a lot of integration. The world moved to the cloud, and now you have the opportunity to analyze not just your company’s data, but data from other companies and different categories. You start finding patterns.”

Security concerns in the cloud

The conversion for companies to cloud-based systems is ongoing. According to Gartner, the software-as-a-service industry has grown more than 20% from 2015 to 2016, ballooning into a $ 37.7 billion industry.

The growth is spurred by customers’ increased comfort in the security of cloud-based services, according to David Schmaier, CEO and founder of Vlocity Inc., based in San Francisco. Schmaier has worked with CRM systems for nearly 30 years.

“There was a big fear of data security on the cloud,” Schmaier said. “People weren’t sure if you could scale these cloud systems for hundreds of thousands of users. We proved we can.”

That’s not to say issues with security will be nonexistent in the cloud, but Gartner predicted the majority of security failures — 95% — will be the customer’s fault, not the service provider’s.

By building up cloud-based services and demonstrating they worked, the industry laid the groundwork for heavy investment in artificial intelligence technologies.

“Cloud technology needed to provide all the capabilities that on-premises systems provided. It takes a while to build out that capability,” Schmaier said. “The plumbing and infrastructure are making [artificial intelligence technologies] work.”

While the technology was built out to support artificial intelligence technologies and cloud-based services in the 2000s and 2010s, it also took a sociological migration to adopt these services.

“Customer-facing professionals in 1999 and 2000, they hated using tech,” Oram said. “Now, we have a workforce that has grown with technology at their fingertips.”

With the changes in the market in full effect, companies that invested in on-premises, legacy software are playing catch-up.

“The only reason companies still have on-premises is the legacy of thousands of dollars spent and decisions made,” Schmaier said. “It’s a technical debt that needs to be paid.”

‘Everyone sees it as the future’

AI technologies are becoming more important to the world of business applications each year. And with more integration, data sets and machine learning capabilities, the technology should continuously get more advanced, which could be concerning for sales reps whose job it is to make decisions that now are left to software.

Industry professionals say the concern of artificial intelligence technologies taking over entry- or midlevel positions is overblown. Some form of human interaction, whether with the customer or with the software, will be necessary.

“AI is only as good as the way you train it, and it requires a human to train it to get smarter and smarter,” Lee said. “AI needs all that data, but it also needs a seamless front-end and human experience to actively train it.”

Oram dubbed the current period the age of data, and said there’s no turning back from the mass amounts of information consumers have voluntarily and involuntarily made public.

“Between the massive data explosion, coupled with internet of things, we’re in that era right now in a big way,” Oram said. “There’s an amazing wealth of personal data we’re consciously and unconsciously publishing. We’re squarely in the age of data, and [artificial intelligence technologies] are coming right along.”

With AI comes the need for machine learning, or the capability for artificial intelligence technologies to learn the best practices from the information it has captured.

“There’s an AI and machine learning bubble going on,” Lee said. “Everyone sees it as the future. You’ll see machine learning applied across a number of industries — CRM being one, [human resources] being another. It will transform how we work. The use cases are ongoing for what specifically can we apply this capability.”

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