Category Archives: Technology

The anomaly in progress – part II


Concorde wing

The distinctive Concorde delta-shaped wing

Today I have been thinking about innovation. More specifically about how and why some organizations seem to have mastered the art of innovating while others struggle to adopt a culture that embraces change and innovation. The level of industrialization and quality of the processes that run and support an organization, and that make it achieve excellence in their day to day operations and products, whatever their nature, are sometimes the worst enemy of creativity and innovation.

Yet some companies have mastered both sides of the coin and are able to execute, operate and manufacture with atomic precision while creating a corporate culture that promotes and embraces thinking out of the box, pursuing new ideas and pushing the boundaries to create better products and, ultimately, progress.

I have to admit I admire those organizations. And every time I go through this thought process, I end up thinking of my favorite example of innovation at a great scale: Concorde. It is not the first time I write about this beautiful machine and what it meant to commercial aviation, yet I still find amazing to learn the amount and complexity of the challenges faced by the men and women that strongly believed that they could deliver something that changed the way air travel was understood, and they did. They proved that determination and the right culture for innovation can go very far, so far, that they created a gap in progress.

Concorde cockpit

Concorde cockpit

Enumerating every single innovation that Concorde brought would be material for a large number of books, but there are still a few items worth mentioning. The most curious one is how the effect of drag at high speed generated so much heat, that the nose tip would reach temperatures well beyond +100 degrees celsius, even though the air at cruising levels would typically be below -60. This meant that Concorde would be longer (up to one feet) in the air than on the ground. Due to its higher takeoff and landing speeds, the brakes where a crucial component, being the first commercial aircraft to be equipped with carbon brakes. This, together with the early introduction of fly by wire as mentioned in the previous post, mark just an example of the challenges that had to be overcome with the help of creativity, innovation and determination. All of this, using 1950-60s technology.

More than being just a beautiful machine and possibly the most sleek and elegant commercial aircraft ever built, it is a living -at least in our memories- example of the culture of innovation that can change the world.

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Beyond excellence


Beyond excellence

Beyond excellence

Today I attended a very interesting session about Customer Service, in which it was made clear that customers expect more than service excellence, they want to be delighted. Apparently customer expectations have gone to a complete new

level, in which Customer satisfaction is now worthless, customers expect that their needs are anticipated, they want to be surprised well beyond their expectations.

We all try to differentiate from our competitors by improving and continuously improving our products, services and processes, implementing better and more sophisticated technologies that enable us to do more with less, but this, by itself, does not bring customer satisfaction, furthermore, it does not delight our customers. No matter how good our systems and processes are, most of your experience as a customer will be down to the person that managed the interaction with us. This will determine whether you will be satisfied or not. Even though, Customer satisfaction is no longer enough. It is now necessary to delight the customer, which is down to how you make your customer feel throughout the whole interaction. Whether you are able to anticipate their needs, and create that wow factor that will be long remembered after the interaction.

The shortest distance between two persons is a smile

Yes, technology can help provide the necessary tools for staff to be more efficient and provide a better service. It is a necessary, yet not sufficient condition for delighting your customers. It is down to the physiology of your customer facing staff, the way the talk, the way the make eye contact and above all, the way they smile. And this is not something that is taught in a customer service training, it is something that needs to be part of the DNA of the Organization. It is the face that you have when you arrive at work that will be seen -and remembered- by your customers. What differentiates good companies from great companies is precisely that, their staff, and how the culture they breath every day influences them, which will ultimately determine how genuine their smile. After all there is nothing worse than a clearly fake smile right?.

Personal experience

As the session went by, I started remembering a few past experiences in one of my favorite companies, Singapore Airlines. Air travel is by nature very anonymous, as you share a small space with a few other hundreds of passengers, and crew see hundreds, if not thousands of customers every week. This seems to be the perfect base of an impersonal service. Yet after so many flights I still get impressed by how they are able to transform an anonymous experience into a personal one. And how they are still able to create that wow factor, by going that extra few miles that are not in any onboard service manual. It is not only about saying please or thank you, it is about genuinely and generously keeping your ego to yourself and letting customers have their moment.

Not all crew are the same, of course, and there are always good and bad days. But one thing (and I say this by personal experience), these guys are just doing it right and they have managed to create a whole corporate culture around customer service that clearly pays off. The most remarkable flight I have had onboard any Singapore Airlines plane will not be remembered by the quality of the seat, the food, the amount of champagne of the movies offered on the entertainment system. It will be remembered by how genuinely the crew smiled and took care of me throughout the flight, and how they went well beyond the service manual to make sure I enjoyed the experience.

Once I was told that the only thing that truly can differentiate ourselves from our competition, and that can not be copied by them is the human being and their attitude. The session today was all about it, and I can only tell by personal experience that it is very true.

Cars: The next app frontier


This is the next territory to be conquered by your apps

This is the next territory to be conquered by your apps

It’s no secret that apps have changed the way we consume content and software, and expressions like “I have an app for that” are now part of our daily lexicon. Little by little, the appmania has been overflowing SmartPhones and Tablets. TVs where the next conquered territory, and now it seems that cars, and more specifically, on board infotainment systems are the next frontier.

Key players in the industry like Denso, QNX, Magneti Marelli and the traditional car manufacturers are already working in their respective strategies for bringing apps to your car. While most of the current trends are around driving performance and self-diagnostics, extending the features currently available on most infotainment systems, some brands are already introducing very popular general purpose apps. Read Lexus here, and the recently launched latest version of their on board system, Enform, which includes some interesting apps available on board the car. Things like buying movie tickets or booking a table at your destination are now possible, even through the cars voice commands. Even checking in your destination on Facebook is now something you can do behind the steering wheel.

This probably opens a new question behind the technology on which these on board infotainment systems are based. Will we see Android or iOS based in car navigation systems?. It would definitely be very exciting as this would mean instant availability of thousands, if not millions, of apps right to be installed in your car. Interesting potential advantage for Android as some of the current platforms are already based on Linux, which could mean easier integration of Android-based apps onboard.

Born Social vs Learnt Social


Citi rewards facebook app

Citi rewards facebook app

Following the previous post on Scoot, and how they are a truly born social company, it is interesting to compare how their evolution is in Social Media as compared to more established companies that are learning how to become social and adopting it on their way.

It is becoming more and more clear that Social Media is not only going to be the way to gain a more close and personal relationship with your customers, but also a full service channel that will probably start moving business out of your current electronic platforms. Some industries will be earlier adopters than others, and some examples of this can be found on the airline industry, where Malaysia Airlines is already offering flight search, booking and check-in can be done in a facebook app.

Security and privacy concerns will slow down the adoption for certain industries, namely the Financial Services, but yet there is already space for certain features to be offered in Social Media. Citibank recently launched a new facebook app that allows their customers group their reward points they obtain for purchases and use them for charity or a group gift. Rewards seems to be quite the right transaction for Banks to start servicing customers over Social Media, as its level of risk is far lower than traditional financial transactions.

It will be interesting to see and compare the adoption curve for established companies, specially on highly risk aware industries like Banking as compared to companies born social like Scoot, who have adopted Social Media in a very natural manner for literally every single internal process they are facing in the journey of setting up the airline: Recruiting, selecting their slogan and offering promotions. It will not be surprising to see that Facebook -their Google+ page is yet to be seen- will become their main sales and servicing channel when they start operating.

Will this be the trend followed by other industries and therefore, will Social Media replace -at least partially- online banking? I make my bet!

The anomaly in progress – part I


Building Concorde

Building Concorde

Often progress and technological evolution is seen as a continuous and relentless process. Some industries progress faster than others, and every now and then, there are huge steps that create a huge gap with the precedent technology. But extremely rarely, evolution goes backwards and progress is inverted, creating an anomaly in progress, a situation in which something that was technically possible is not possible anymore.

This is the case of Commercial Supersonic Travel and the incredible machine that made it possible for 27 years. Concorde.

The more I look into the history of how this beautiful craft was designed and built, the more admiration I develop for the huge, quantum leap that designers and engineers managed to make using 1950’s and early 1960’s technology. Interestingly, some of the techniques and technologies developed for Concorde are still being introduced gradually into modern airliners, like fly by wire. Now widely adopted (Airbus first introduced it after Concorde in 1988 on the A320 family, whilst Boeing waited until the 777 was introduced in 1994), it was an example of how Concorde was way ahead of its time.

A controversial machine, though, environmentally unfriendly for the noise its four Rolls Royce Olympus engines generated, and its generous fuel burning, yet an incredible breakthrough in progress, so big, it constituted one of the very few anomalies in progress. Nearly a decade after it was withdrawn from commercial service, there is no sign that Commercial Supersonic Travel will be possible again in the near future.

There is no 2 without 3


Apple iPad

Apple iPad

This might be true from multiple points of view when it comes to the naming of the yet to be unveiled iPad 3. It seems that not only will Apple release the 3rd version of the popular tablet as early as in a few weeks time from now, but also that more than one version of it will be available at the same time. This somehow breaks the evolution of the iPad product so far and might be a sign of the popularity the Amazon Kindle Fire is enjoying.

Up to now, the iPad and most of its competitors have been positioned too closely, with this being the reason for the failure of most of them. Kindle, however, is probably on a class of its own. For the moment… Obviously Kindle is not meant to be a replacement to the iPad, as sales figures of the Apple product seem to prove, however, it might have uncovered a gap in Cupertinos product line, where there might be room for a lower spec iPad in between the iPhone and the high-end iPad 3.

Yet to be seen is whether this strategy would pay off for Apple, as Amazon seems to be way ahead covering the low end of the market, with sales figures in excess of one million units per week.

It would also be interesting to see how Apple will approach the developer community, as it looks like now applications will have to be available for multiple screen resolutions and screen sizes.

An image is worth a thousand words – Bank of the future – part 2


A few weeks back I was introduced to Google Goggles. The technology is amazing, yes, but at that point in time there was little commercial application for it, other than triggering searches with an image instead of a few words. The idea is pretty

Google Goggles

Google Goggles

good and powerful, and promises to be even more when more recognition capabilities are added to the solution. As of today, it can recognize text, logos, landmarks, books, wine, artwork and contact information.

The idea behind this technology is really powerful, and clearly a must have for the compulsive I want what I see buyer. See something fancy on the street? Just take a pic not only to learn what it actually is but eventually to the best places to buy it online, right from your SmartPhone.

Very promising, but still a bit far away from having the level of recognition for such an application to takeoff.

Whilst general purpose recognition might be a challenge, Amazon has taken this technology to the next stage by creating the first commercial application of it. Narrowing

the scope of objects to be recognizes shows surprising effects. Read Amazon remembers here. Still in beta, but yet amazing. See a book, DVD or videogame?. Just take a picture of it, and it is very likely to be recognized. You are instantly presented with the offers of your selected Amazon store. It simply works.

Potential

Businesses like Amazon, selling material goods over the internet, are likely to take benefit of this technology, and it is only a matter of time that the technology will mature and image will be as used as text as an input for searches. Actually, it is quite natural to search for something you know how it looks like but of which you do not necessarily know its name.

The challenge comes in industries where the goods are not material, or are not directly linkable to something material of which you can take a picture. Air Travel and Banks fall within this category, yet I think can get great benefit of such technology.

Amazon remembers

Amazon remembers

Air travel can easily be linked with a picture of a location or landmark that is clearly recognizable. Following Google’s own example with San Francisco’s Golden Gate, just take a picture of it and you can be presented with the best offers to travel there from your selected home location. Maybe even better if you actually don’t know the name of the place but see a wonderful poster, just take a picture and find out how much it will take you to fly there for the next holiday. Nice.

Financial Services is a bit more difficult, as the products are not easily linkable to something material, but there are still potential applications for this in the industry. Promotion locators are growing in popularity with the location based capabilities of SmartPhones. These can get great benefit of image recognition, so promotions are now filtered to the specific product you want to buy, which you just saw. This truly takes the buying experience to the next level, as not only you can identify the product you wish to buy and where it is sold, but also in which specific merchants in your surroundings you can get the best promotion from your bank.

The Bank of the future will have to expand its own boundaries, to have more presence in the life of its customers, and technologies like this will certainly play a role on this.

While traditional banking services can still benefit of image recognition (will you take a picture of a checkbook and request it through such a mobile app, instead of doing it through online banking?), the biggest jump comes when the Bank becomes an enabler of your day to day life. Being involved and everything, from every

day purchases to your once in a lifetime acquisitions.

Are you buying something you just took a picture of?. We are here to offer you the b

 

est promotion for it when using our cards. Are you searching for the ultimate vacation by sending a picture of that beach?. Here we are to offer you the best financing and insurance package. The financial service is not the final product, but the enabler. And I am sure a wise and wide application of these technologies can create a next level of engagement with customers in the Banking industry.

Bank of the future – part 1


BankEver since call centres and ATM’s where adopted as the first form of Alternative Channels banks have been looking for ways of offloading their branches and moving low value, high volume transactions to lower unitary cost channels.

The Internet promised to bring this offloading strategy to the next level, by providing a channel with unitary costs on levels a fraction of those in the traditional ones. Despite few honorable exceptions of institutions that have really given the Internet channel a life of its own, most banks have relied on alternative channels as a means of bringing down the operational costs, leaving the human interaction for the high-value commercial transactions and financial advisory functions.

This might have come to an end, thanks to two main factors that are driving a substantial change in the way banks interact with their customers: Mobile and Social Media.

Mobile: A life of its own

The exponential growth of mobile applications have finally created a channel with a life of its own, where customers are approached and serviced in a new way. Where services exclusive to this channel are offered, and where banks are fiercely competing to differentiate themselves. Mobile applications and the power of Smart Phones are allowing banks to expand their relationship with customers, no longer constrained to the provisioning of financial services, but providing an emotional link between them and the customers lifestyle.

It is not just about allowing you to make a payment easily, or to buy or sell shares on the move. It is about providing an offering that is meaningful for you, in the place you are, in the mood you are or in the stage of your life you are in. More and more advanced services are proliferating around mobile applications which deviate from the traditional approach of using alternative channels as a cost cutter.

Wisely used, mobile applications can help the bank be seen an enabler in the customers lifestyle, which is just what it should be.

Social Media: The focus shifted

Social Media has probably not created the concept of digital life, but definitely has helped bring it to a level where virtually anyone has a very complete digital life, which is no more than a reflection of one’s real counterpart. Sharing your real life in your digital one has become a habit for hundreds of millions. The activity in these media is such that companies can simply not afford to be there, where their customers life happens. Where customers express their views and opinions about companies and their experiences with them, and where the early adopters are already starting to do some good business.

The focus is radically shifted towards the customer, which now has truly become king, now yes, this being completely true. Now customers decide what, where and when. Customers decide how and where they give you feedback, and how and where they want to interact with you.

Yet another channel with a life of its own.

As suggested by the title of this post, more to come on very interesting forms of channels like QR Codes and Microsoft Tags, and possibilities opened by new technologies like Siri.

NFC beyond payments


The spread and adoption of NFC seems to be gaining momentum in the industry, with a number of terminals either supporting or having the intention to support the technology. With the exception of Apple, who still have to make a move in this space, most SmartPhone manufacturers are already shipping NFC-enabled devices, updated list can be checked here.

With strong support from key industry players like Visa or MasterCard, and with Google redefining the whole payments ecosystem, the late 2011 and early 2012 will see the consolidation of NFC as a standard feature in mid to high-end SmartPhones. Yet more to see if Apple decides to include the technology in their yet-to-be-seen iPhone 5.

While contactless payments will continue to be the source of growth for a number of years, however there are many other uses and applications that are strongly emerging, which promise a bright future for this technology. NFC is here to stay.

SmartPhones have been gradually conquering other devices space, replacing your agenda, phone, photo and video camera, business card holder… and even computer with very advanced applications being available out there in the respective appstores. The next thing to come is clearly your wallet, changing your old-fashioned plastic credit cards for their virtual counterparts.

Cash Cards have been successfully implemented in some markets, whilst others are still hesitant to make use of them. The burden of balance top-up is still something to be resolved. NFC can boost the usage of these, as they are really convenient for day to day micro payments where a contactless, signatureless payment can be really convenient. Vending machines, public transportation, paying a taxi or your coffee at Starbucks are likely to be done with a cash card, which now you will be able to store in your SmartPhone. And guess what, recharge it directly from your banking account too!.

But there is room for NFC beyond payments.

Merchants offering loyalty cards, with or without stored value can benefit of this technology. You have loyalty cards from a couple of airlines, half a dozen hotels, your favorite coffee shop and a myriad of other merchants. Now all of them can fit comfortably in your NFC-enabled phone, and you can easily track your points, miles and rewards easily in one single place.

Access Control through NFC

Access Control through NFC

Access control

Modern houses use cards and readers to access doors and gates instead of traditional keys, pretty much like you would see in any hotel. Wouldn’t it be nice to use your SmartPhone to access home?. And it would not stop here, home automation might be one of the next things to be conquered by your SmartPhone, so start guessing the possibilities here.

Anywhere requiring identification in the form of a card can benefit of NFC for access control, so will no longer have to carry your identification badge with you. Your phone does.

Information sharing

The next best thing is information sharing. In the era of Social Media, it is all about sharing. Also in the physical world, where you are likely to exchange your business card when you meet someone, give your phone number or your facebook profile to someone you just met, or leave your card to participate in the next lucky draw. All of them can now be done by putting your phone close enough, so you can transfer your contact details, social media profiles or leave a reduced version of your contact details on a merchant. How many times have you been asked to write down the same contact details on a hotel at check-in?. Guess what, never again.

And the last, yet best

Angry Birds Magic

Angry Birds Magic

It had to be Rovio and in had to be Angry Birds to give us the latest example of NFC. The latest version of their ultra-popular game, still only available on the new NFC-enabled Nokia C7,

allows gamers to contact other gamers to unlock new levels of the addictive game. Fun?.

Does Apple bet for NFC?


There is something I quite missed on today’s Apple event. It was not Steve Jobs, and it was not iPhone 5. Actually, whether it was an upgraded iPhone 4 (as it finally turned out to be) or the long awaited iPhone 5, the feature I really missed is the NFC chip built into the latest object of desire.

NFC Enabled Phone

NFC Enabled Phone

Taking a look at the recent movements by Google, announcing Google Wallet and Offers, which create a whole ecosystem to make the most out of the NFC hardware, as well as the list of

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

manufacturers announcing -or even shipping- NFC-capable phones, it is surprising that Apple chose not to make a move on this space. The whole set of actors in the industry, from hardware and software manufacturers to card issuers, financial institutions and merchants are positioning themselves on what looks like one of the next big things in both Mobile Technology and Financial Services.

Apple is known for not leaving anything to chance, so either they do not believe in NFC (clearly unlikely, considering the push and support the technology is getting) or they are preparing something really big that is worth waiting for their next generation SmartPhone to be unveiled.

So is Apple preparing a move similar to Google’s in this space, by combining the hardware -probably linked to the iPhone 5 launch sometime next year- with a complete ecosystem of applications and platforms to cover the whole, end to end payment experience?. Is it wise for Apple to reach the market at least half a year later if they want to have a predominant position in this space?. Time will tell, but it looks that either they have an ace under their sleeve or it will be a big leap to cover if they wait for iPhone 5 to step in.