Monthly Archives: June 2011
Now that geolocation is massively present in our lives, and used on lots of mobile applications, a new hot topic in mobile technology seems to be coming. It is indoor, short range location.
Some time ago I discovered that in a popular supermarket in Singapore the shopping carts had an LCD screen that showed information relevant to the section you were walking through at that point in time. At first I thought “well, the latest form of publicity in the kingdom of advertisement”, something fancy, but just that. Or was it something else?. Are they just showing you offers that are at the reach of your fingertips, or are they doing something else?. What if they are tracking the movements of the cart by some sort of indoor-GPS so they can know what are the shopping and movement patterns of the visitors?.
This seems like a very interesting application to every public space that receives visitors or customers, as it provides a very useful and detailed insight of the movements of the visitors within the space, also being able to detect hot spots that draw visitors attention, what are the places, on the other hand, that are barely visited, and many other parameters that define the analytics of how users move themselves in any open space.
So probably these guys are not just offering me the current promotion on house wines as I walk by the spirits section, but they are actually tracking, recording, and analyzing all my movements in the store. This way they can know where do I spend more time, whether I come back to a section where I have been before, maybe indicating the products are not too clearly shown as I needed to come back and find something.
The technology seems to be very interesting in its practical applications, but in this particular case it is very probably based on RFID, which means that each cart probably has a passive RFID and they have a number of receivers in the store to track our movements. Not rocket science, definitely, but a very intelligent way of having some insight onto an otherwise very complex problem to resolve.
Removing the cart
Having recognized the value of indoor location and visitor tracking, we can imagine a lot of applications for this, virtually anywhere subject to receiving visits of customers. Airports, Supermarkets, any type of stores, even bank branches can benefit of this to optimize resources and know what are the patterns that drive customer behaviour in real life interactions -as opposed to virtual interactions over the internet, which are much easier to track-.
But the fundamental limitation seems to be how do we stick our customers and visitors to an RFID. Easy in the case of a supermarket where you are very likely to pick a shopping cart, but complicated in many other situations. However, there seems to be some possibilities in using three forms of signals that your mobile phone can be publicly sharing: TMSI (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity), Bluetooth and Wi Fi. Whilst Bluetooth and Wi Fi depend on the user having this feature activated on the phone, they are quite good sources of information to perform indoor tracking.
However the first one seems to have a broader application, as it is first anonymous, resolving the traditional privacy issue of location and tracking, and second, is always active. It is based on a regular communication all mobiles perform with their base stations in order to report their location. These communications can be picked by indoor antennas and can be used for locating the position of the user with a precision down to 1-2 m. Good enough isn’t it?.
There is a very interesting paper that describes this technology in detail as well as providing a pilot study with very interesting results. As stated in the paper, this is the having Google Analytics for real life customer interactions…
When finding your place in the market maybe you are differentiating by price, or by having a niche product. Some other companies would like to be recognized as leaders in Customer Service. I really like these kind of companies, as I think it is really difficult to achieve excellence in customer service. If you combine this with the size of a large, global business, then the task acquires a completely new dimension. Not only you need to design and deliver an outstanding service to your customers, but you also need to do it consistently in any location and interaction point. It is all about how your customers perceive your company, and in the premier league of customer service, no flaws are allowed, anytime, anywhere.
The material and human side
Creating a high quality customer experience is a serious business. And complex, very complex. After you look at all the material aspects of your customer service, which will depend on the industry, you will probably realize that the most important, and difficult piece to achieve is the human bit. If you are a Bank, no matter how good your Internet Banking Technology is, or how fancy your latest mobile app looks like, how well you have designed your branches or how finely tuned your call routing strategies and scripts are in your call center, the human part can spoil the whole experience, or the other way around. Standardizing the material aspects of your customer experience might look challenging, specially if you have a global scale business, but, what about the human side?. How do you ensure that the people that face the moment of truth with your customers deliver exactly the same experience?.
There are very few companies that have achieved this, and there is one for which I feel particular admiration. First, for the quality of their service, and the human side of it. Second for the consistency they have achieved in a global scale. It is Singapore Airlines.
Airline customer service
If you think about what is customer service in an airline, it is really a complex topic, involving many material aspects, and a crucial human part. In the last few years I have traveled half a million kilometers, mostly between Spain and Singapore, and using mainly BA, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. After some hours on board (and half a million kilometers is a few of them) you start to appreciate the difference. Some differences are subtle, others much more obvious. Both BA and Qantas have nice business class products in their long haul fleet, specially Qantas after the introduction of the A380 on the route. The seats are comfortable and the service is quite nice to, but here start the differences when you introduce SQ in the equation. Their service is clearly outstanding and in a different league when you compare it to the other two carriers.
There are subtle differences like the cabin design and ambiance, or the nice orchids in the lavatories, but it really becomes serious when it gets to the food and the way it is presented. No tray food. Delicious food carefully presented in Givenchy tableware, and fine wines served on full size fine glassware by the same firm.
But above all the material aspects which define the great service onboard SQ flights, it is clearly their cabin crew and personnel that really set the difference. Some would say it is part of the Asian culture for customer service, and I would agree only partly. It is also a fantastic job of customer service standardization. No matter whether you board an SQ plane in Singapore, London or Barcelona, the way the crew address you, the way the Satay is served and the way the crew genuinely care about you throughout the flight is exactly the same.
Walk down the air bridge towards the aircraft door and you will start sensing the particular fragrance of all SQ planes -yes, they all smell the same- while you are welcomed by a couple of members of the crew and you already feel a bit home.
Standardized vs personalized
So now we have an outstanding customer service that is also consistent across the all the touchpoints. But wouldn’t this feel a bit cold and non-personal for the customer?. They seem to have also taken care of this. No matter how standardized the onboard service is, but they still manage to make you feel special and truly cared of whilst onboard. It is all about YOU. The amazing thing is that there are hundreds of thousands of YOUs every day on dozens of SQ aircraft across the world, and all of them feel special and unique.
Clearly there is a very interesting lesson to be learnt from other industries isn’t it?. Imagine you could deliver this service in this consistent manner across your whole enterprise, whilst still making your customers feel unique?.
Some time ago I was walking at night and a car passed by. It was quite dark so I could not distinguish it properly, but its rear lights looked to me like a mixture between a new Jaguar XJ and a Rolls Royce Phantom. Weird. I did some research on the Internet with no results so I let it go. But the other day I was riding back home and saw this car again parked. So I stopped to take a look at the brand. Mitsuoka. Funny, I had never heard of them, so back to the internet to find more about it.
It happens to be a firm based in Toyama which has been since 1968 pursuing a particular philosophy. They get standard Japanese cars, like your tiny Nissan Micra and make it look unique resembling the old school of British cars. And although some of their models have a somehow odd appearance, others are quite appealing.
Jaguar Mark II
The Jaguar Mark II is probably one of the most elegant saloons ever built by the British industry. Produced between 1959 and 1967 its influence still can be seen in the latest Jaguar S Types, but nothing close to the elegance and grandeur of the original. Or maybe yes?.
Take a look at the Mitsuoka ViewT. The front really resembles the original, classy, elegant, with that beautiful grill and a the voluptuous curves very much like the original back in the late fifties. Look at the headlamps and the stripes across the bonnet. What you will never guess is the platform used for this, the guys at Mitsuoka have delivered this beauty using the platform of a Nissan Micra, with the same engines and interior. This ensures you can enjoy the reliability and durability of a mass production, modern engineered car but with a very sophisticated and distinguished look. Cute?.
Now that you have seen what these guys can do with a Nissan Micra, maybe you are a bit more excited about the idea when it comes to the MX5. See the result. Looks pretty close to a Morgan Plus 8, but features exactly everything that you love about the MX5. Light, responsive, fun to drive, while maintaining, the two hood options, including the 12 seconds-fast hard top of the original.
The interior is exactly the one of the MX5 but with nice touches like some wood inserts and leather making it a bit more classy. They call it Himiko and is the perfect look of the 30’s on a 2011 Mazda MX5.
There are other models in the range, like the Rolls Royce looking Galue (the first Mitsuoka I saw that night in Singapore) and the beefy Orochi, but I must admit that when I saw the Himiko I really felt in love with it. Unique 1930’s look with everything you would expect from a 21st century roadster. Difficult to resist!.
I must admit that when I first got introduced to Microsoft Surface 2 a few weeks back in a Microsoft event I was a bit skeptical about its potential applications. Maybe it’s the size or the price tag, but after reflecting on it a bit I think there is one
fundamental thing in which it can be extremely useful. Breaking the screen barrier. If you think about customer interactions, a big number of them happen in front of a counter or desk, where the an agent is normally looking at some information in a computer screen in order to complete a transaction, hotel or flight check-in… What about configuring your new car with the sales agent?.
I do find this situation a bit odd, as the screen is not shared, so the customer experience is somehow affected by this barrier. This is precisely where Surface can bring a completely new customer experience by allowing the customer and the agent share the same screen, not only by placing the screen in a horizontal manner, but also not having a default orientation. This means that content can be placed, rotated, fliped, etc. so it can be looked from any angle. This is new. So now you have your customer and your agent interacting with exactly the same information. The multi touch experience adds so this, actually Surface can handle up to 50 simultaneous touch points, and that is a lot of fingers.
When you think about it, this can be really have a great impact in your whole customer interactions. Imagine a financial planning session with your relationship manager in your bank, looking at the same widgets, market reports and graphs, your expenses and investments, your risk profiling. You can now have all these elements in the screen, and they can be placed, moved around, zoomed, all in a shared manner. Or maybe you are checking in for your next flight, so no longer you are looking over a counter where the airline staff key in cryptic commands in order to find you your preferred seat. Now both of you can share the same screen, look at the seatmap, use gestures to zoom and pan around it.
Actually Surface 2 brings a lot more than the ability to look at a screen from many angles and have multiple interactions with it. It opens a whole new way of human to computer interaction. Actually the screen not only recognizes your touch, but can also see you. Or any object placed on it. This opens yet another completely new dimension, but I admit I need more thinking into it before I can imagine practical applications. However, I still wanted to share the customer interaction bit which is more due to the form factor and the multi touch capabilities rather than the new Pixel Sense technology which brings the vision capability.
Now just imagine a 15 inch Surface and you have something that can fit on every customer service counter and deploy massively into branches, airports and hotels.
What do you prefer, your fancy MacBook Pro or the corporate laptop you have just been handed over?. Or maybe you want to stick to Windows but rather carry your stylish Vaio. There seems to be a new trend by which your personal devices are being allowed into the corporate world. This opens a very interesting debate with very interesting ramifications. Studies by research firms show that, although current CIOs are quite reluctant to allow this to happen, they also recognize this will eventually happen in the next few years.
This is broadly known as BYOD, Bring Your Own Device. Which effectively means that the company allows you to use your own devices to perform your duties, instead of providing you with a corporate laptop and smartphone, to say. Normally this comes at a price, which is that the company will not give you technical support for these, however, you might still be comfortable with this as anyway you didn’t have any support for this at home did you?.
Let’s go wild for a second and imagine that we are allowed to take our lovely MacBook to work, so let’s think about the implications and interesting topics this opens. Rather than doing a deep analysis of all of these implications I would leave these for further posts, so just take this as food for thought for the time being.
- Self service IT: Is it possible to simplify the current Corporate IT Support structures in our organizations?
- Mobile Device Management: How do we manage the devices we allow into our network, regardless of who owns them?. Remember BES for Blackberry? Now we have a broader landscape.
- Application Management: How do we balance the freedom of choice versus the control of licenses and software costs?. This specific topic opens one idea I like very much, the idea of extending the AppStore concept to the Enterprise World. What about creating an internal marketplace where applications can be downloaded and installed from?. Users can have a budget assigned so they can manage which applications they need and which they don’t. Sounds good right? Let’s explore this in another post.
- Intellectual property: What are the implications in this space? How do we establish some boundaries between what you create on your free time versus what you create on your time at work?.
I think this is a very interesting topic to explore in detail, so don’t be surprised if you find further posts on the implications of this topic because yes, I am one of those that would love to bring my MacBook to work…
So finally I found the time and the theme to start my own blog.
I guess the most difficult thing when starting a new blog is defining what is all of this going to be about. I just realized that this blog will not have a single theme. It will be around a few things for which I feel specially attracted or passionate, and hopefully the posts here will be around them. And what are these things? Everything within Technology, Banking IT, Aviation, Cars and Travel. And sophistication, I love sophisticated stuff.
Quite disperse, yes, but I guess there is something in common. How these industries have excelled in some aspects, and how these can be applied to the others. Don’t be surprised if you find a review about a flight or a restaurant I enjoyed, or a funny application for a new technology I just learned about.
Above all, the whole idea behind opening this blog is about finding how technology and sophistication can be applied to the Enterprise World by becoming a bit wild. Some of you would agree that in todays average enterprise, the application of technology is somehow restricted by policies, controls and other forms of governance.
So this tiny little place in the web is where we can all go wild and imagine how those innovative technologies that we use, and those we only read about, could break through in the Enterprise World and find fabulous applications. Let’s go wild.
The journey starts, Welcome onboard!