Friday, 30 March 2018

Why cloud? Why now? Because your customers won’t wait

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In real estate, the three most important words are “location, location, location.” In banking, the three most important words might be “speed, speed, speed.”

In banking and in financial services generally, we’re seeing new technologies emerge every day, in both customer-facing and operational capabilities. And we’re seeing banks move processes and services to the cloud instead of running them from their own data centers. Migrating to the cloud can be in expensive process, but it’s the longer-term benefits that have massive impacts. Once on running with cloud solutions, banks have a vehicle for fast, efficient app development, making net new development much cheaper. That’s main reason banks are going to the cloud is to gain quickness, agility and nimbleness. Banks want immediate scalability. If a bank is operating a system in the cloud, it can integrate services more rapidly and knit together a variety of unique services for the customer, whether it created those itself, procured them from a fintech, or got them from somewhere else. Regardless of the source, in the cloud, a bank can create unique experiences quickly, almost on the fly, and bring those to their customers to meet a range of financial needs.

Digital is pervasive—and digital means cloud


Digital is truly everywhere—and it happens in the cloud, because that’s where it is most effective. This is due, in part, by the rise of the fintechs, which are driving innovation across every area of banking. Fintechs were nearly all born in the cloud and they operate with a nimbleness that enables them to serve customers very effectively. Banks are hungry for that nimbleness. But the banks are slowed down by regulatory and compliance requirements and also, in many cases, by monolithic back office systems. Often these are legacy systems cobbled together over the years with bits and pieces of software that don’t always function together smoothly.

The good news is that, as banks transition out of that older, slower architecture and mindset into a faster-paced, customer service mindset, they have a great opportunity to create better customer experiences. The importance of the customer experience can’t be overstated. In fact, a report from the IBM Institute for Business Value found that 74% of the business leaders they surveyed cited “Improved customer experience” as one of the most important outcomes of a successful cloud initiative. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, it’s great customer experiences that will determine the winners in today’s hyper-competitive banking environment.

Move aggressively—but proceed with caution


Yet, even as we’re seeing tremendous momentum in this move to the cloud and digital, sometimes the process moves two steps forward and one step back. There’s an urge to be as aggressive as possible in embracing new technology and engaging with emerging players in the industry. But then we hear news of a major data breach somewhere and there’s a retrenchment almost immediately. Banks will say, “Slow it down. Let’s harden our security policies and maybe not exit our data center just yet. We can’t risk compromising our data or our customers.” That’s pretty normal—and prudent—in this sort of major transition. Cloud security has advanced monumentally but it’s inevitable that we’ll have these temporary setbacks from time to time.

It’s instructive here to look back at all the banking technologies that have been rolled out over the last few decades. In the past, banks had to force customers into using new technologies. Look at ATMs or computerized banking—these technologies where innovations to help cut costs. Initially, the public was skeptical. The thought of getting money from a machine or depositing a check by taking a picture of it sounded a little crazy when they launched. The tables have turned, however. Now, customers are the ones pushing banks to adopt new technologies. Customers are showing banks that they want to have digital interactions—demanding things like instant peer-to-peer payments and robo-advisors.

Speed, speed, speed


Again, success in today’s banking environment hinges on speed, speed, speed. And the banks know it. They’re moving to the cloud and exploring ways to integrate financial ecosystems that could never have been integrated before. It starts with specific lines of business but ultimately, I believe, this move to the cloud will transform banks, banking relationships, and the entire banking industry.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

How Well Is Your HR Organization Adjusting to These 3 Trends?

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It’s a bit of an understatement to say that human resources departments have significantly changed in recent years. And the way they’ll operate in the future continues to evolve.

With many businesses planning to undergo significant transformative efforts in the coming years, it’s important to step back and rethink the role of HR in your organization: what it needs to do and the strategies you need to have in place to enable the growth of the business. Likely, the ones you’re following today are ones that were designed for a different era.

Which highlights many of the challenges and opportunities posed by the collapsing of traditional industry boundaries and the impact of wholesale digital transformation. CHROs realize that capitalizing on new technologies and addressing today’s market upheavals will require a workforce with very different capabilities, and an HR organization that is well prepared to meet these challenges.

In this report, we highlighted that organizations, in order to keep up with these trends, will need to become:

◈ More flexible in obtaining new skills from the outside market;
◈ More analytical in making workforce decisions; and
◈ More social in capturing and acting upon employee insights.

Let’s take a closer look at these three drivers of change in the HR world, which are likely impacting your business.

Flexibility


From a flexibility standpoint, most companies already employing a greater variety of alternative work arrangements. Two-thirds of respondents employ third parties to provide contingent labor. More than half also use non-traditional work arrangements such as telecommuting and flexible working hours. Many intend to continue using such techniques to create a more flexible workforce. Further, an increasing number see the importance of reskilling as a critical approach over the next three to five years.

Figure 1

Flexible talent: Many CHROs now rely on third parties and alternative work arrangements

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Analytics


From an analytics perspective, we see companies making small, but steady progress in their use of workforce analytics. In areas such as sourcing and recruiting, and performance management and evaluation, we see twice as many companies using predictive analytics to make decisions as we did in 2013.

And, we expect these numbers to rise as more organization start to apply tools such as cognitive computing across a wide variety of HR processes, analyzing structured as well as unstructured data and recommending actions regarding the workforce.

Figure 2

Future focus: The number of CHROs who use predictive analytics to make smarter workforce decisions is rising

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Social


Lastly, with change occurring so quickly, organizations need to rely on employees more than ever to capture market insights, share ideas and generate innovations from the bottom up.  Nearly half of the CHROs who participated in our study use social tools to find out what employees think about general business issues.

But social approaches to capture new ideas and track employee sentiment on an ongoing basis are beginning to gather momentum as well. With today’s social technologies, companies no longer have to wait for a traditional employee survey to ferret out long standing problems; they can reach out to internal and external platforms to capture employee sentiment and highlight small issues before they become larger ones.

Figure 3

Digital dialogue: Social tools can help CHROs capture key trends and manage change

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Flexible. Analytical. Social. These are three emerging capabilities that HR organizations will be charged with rapidly building to meet the demands of the future workforce. Combined, they will enable organizations to better anticipate change and respond to changes in their industry landscape — and more confidently pursue transformative efforts that will enable growth in the future.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

On credit-augmented market risk analysis

Many investors appreciate occasional bond rallies throughout their financial year. They may not all welcome the ongoing presence of low long interest rates as much (see Fig. 1). In such markets, low coupons and yields offered by top issuers may not be well suited to the refinancing of liabilities.

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Fig. 1 – Evolution of 10Y Gov’t bond yields (OECD Data)

Exploring the credit spectrum

For fund managers and asset allocation sponsors, the investment answer often lays in the exploration of the credit quality spectrum. Using a blend of quantitative and fundamental approaches, these investors have on-boarded more corporate debt instruments. Thus, they benefit from higher coupons than government bond instruments, and receive welcome yield enhancements to improve upon expected performance.

For many fund managers, these broader investment types may only marginally impact short term risk indicators. Their key measures are often based on gross market exposures for leverage, sector limits for diversification, and market risk ratios; for example, these ratios can be based on volatility estimates, tracking errors or short term Value-at-Risk figures. For longer term investors and core sponsors, the picture is somewhat different. Exposed to economic capital management frameworks, on-boarding spread sensitive instruments requires them to monitor more than market risks. As pension funds and insurance firms seek to improve their financial performances, they need to also better integrate all risks. In such ERM context, further enhancing their credit risk monitoring capabilities matters.

Taking an integrated view on market and credit risks

As one expects, obligor defaults and portfolio contagion effects can have an adverse impact on these investors’ high-quintile risk ratios. When these long-term ‘risk takers’ project positions into a distant future for ALM, integration of market and credit risks shall matter even more. For many corporate issuances, bond defaults may well materialize at time points beyond the traditional fund managers’ horizons. For ALM managers, looking beyond a 3-year horizon, these credit events will appear in large volume simulation outputs. Rating migrations and eventual defaults will impact their expected cash-flows, simulated surplus and their related economic capital projections.

Adding rating transition effects and possible obligor defaults shall have multiple impacts on market risk-only simulations. On the one hand, it shall lower mean returns, and decrease the skewness of market-only simulated return distributions of bonds. In most cases, it shall push these skewness indicators well into negative value territories, especially for high yield bonds. The detailed impact will depend, amongst other factors, on single-name exposure limits and chosen recovery rates. On the other hand, integrating credit risks may also increase the kurtosis of the original return distribution. The more contagious simulated credit events are across obligors, the higher the expected tail risk measure impact shall be.

What-if?


In the current interest rate environment, the pension funds and insurance firms’ appetite for credit-augmented market risk analysis is understandable. For these financial institutions though, the challenges go beyond taking a regular picture of their combined market and credit risks. Using their modernized data infrastructures, most organizations shall now further tie their ERM risk results with daily decision-making processes. This is no easy task at all. How can risk managers, treasury and ALM teams consistently act upon insights they can gain from integrated market and credit risk analysis? Leveraging daily data feeds, credit-enriched risk management solutions shall allow these teams to run advanced market scenarios at position level. Users of these platforms shall also be able to simulate single-name hedges, and test their broader overlay plans too. With some short interest rates up, do more investors now prepare for times when market and credit risk indicators deviate from the current paths?

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

5 Things a financial professional can’t miss at IBM Think 2018

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As the term “fintech” becomes further engrained and more ubiquitous in the banking and financial industry, these businesses classified by the same fintech name have ascended beyond the small, ardent startup scene and have established themselves as equal challengers in the arena, standing up and competing with institutions that are a century old or longer. Now, more than ever, the marriage between technology and finance is apparent. Looking forward, the line between the two will continue to intertwine. Enter, IBM Think 2018, the premier business and technology event of the year that underscores and emphasizes the bond between business and technology.

Simultaneously, the latest adage of “disruption” has also moved on from the startup space to large, established financial institutions. Generations-old businesses, with legacy systems, are looking to become more agile, embracing change with an open-minded philosophy perhaps never seen before. With the event quickly approaching, we put get together a list of five things not to be missed as a financial services professional with an eye toward the future, at IBM Think 2018:

1. Building a bank designed on disruption


The idea is simple: Large financial institutions must embrace disruption to stay competitive with their smaller, more agile brethren. If you look for a common theme among the financial and banking sessions, speakers, demos and client stories at Think 2018, it is disruption through agility. Applying technologies not known for their use in banking will be some of the most popular sessions and demos at Think. Advanced use and deployment of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, machine learning, are well-represented and will be explored at Think 2018.

2. Sessions, sessions, sessions!


With over 100 banking and financial sessions alone, there is enough to do at Think for banking and finance professionals as a stand alone event. Some of the areas that are well represented in the finance industry are:

◈ Blockchain
◈ Digital front office
◈ Digital wealth management
◈ Digital back office
◈ DevOps
◈ Payments
◈ Risk & compliance

3. Developers and C-Level


Are you a developer? What about a C-level executive? Somewhere in between? Few conferences can offer a range of business technology certifications, networking, speakers and certifications up and down the corporate ladder and types of roles like Think can. The premier business technology event has an abundance of material for both the developers and operations side of business, and equally there is plenty of deliverables that appeals to the C-level, executive and managerial level of experience.

4. Real-world experience


Besides IBM thought leaders and luminaries, some of the most influential disruptors in the technical finance and banking community will be on hand. Innovators and thinkers from organizations such as Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citi, and TD Ameritrade, will be well-represented at Think sharing their digital transformation journeys. Aside from the vast networking opportunities, these industry experts under one roof lends itself for a tremendous education experience in a small amount of time.

5. Blockchain


No business technology conference would be complete without a significant amount of blockchain material. Of course, the 2017 buzzword of the year in business is well-represented at Think. Starting with a keynote on “Bringing Trust and Transparency to Business Networks with Blockchain” (session 8794A), then 50 sessions, hands-on demos, and meet the experts on blockchain await. Ranging from getting started and beginner hands-on (1559A and 1535B), through accelerating your blockchain journey (1546B), to technical deep-dives such as (1548A and 7978A). In these times, who doesn’t need to learn about blockchain? Just about no one.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Accelerate & Reinvent Telecom Digital Transformation Process

So, how can IBM’s RETAIN service for the Telecom industry help CSPs accelerate the Telecom digital transformation? Major trends across the Telecom industry are forcing the transformation of business and operating models.

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Market demands are driving three corresponding imperatives in Telecom Industry:

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1. Accelerate Digital Transformation
As consumers are increasingly becoming digitally empowered using mobile devices over their networks, communication service providers (CSPs) must adapt quickly to a changing landscape. This places them in a prime spot to provide digital information and services.

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In a fully connected, mobile and digital world, consumers expect a multichannel experience that is consistent across any device and network they are using, and this in turn has redefined the “traditional” relationship between consumer, brand and service. This paradigm shift has forced CSPs to re-evaluate their position and transform their businesses into ones that can sell an array of interactive services and experiences direct from the consumer’s device, in an instant

2. Create Infrastructure Agility

Convergence of network and IT are simplifying and re-focusing the industry. To respond quickly, CSPs are shifting more of their infrastructure to cloud to gain both agility and OPEX benefits.  IBM’s cloud based offerings for Telco are designed to deliver a set of consumable outcomes for clients without the pain of integration and deep organizational transformation and have in common:

– Analytics driven insights

– Cloud based technologies

– People expertise

The IBM RETAIN solution, engineered to reduce churn, is delivered via IBM’s Cloud Business Solution construct, meaning fast execution, lower total cost of ownership and rapid setup and start of services. The IBM team will first understand the requirements, then set up the appropriate processes and technologies to support the marketing requirements, execute and scale up with proven best practices to accelerate benefit realization.

The agile cloud based infrastructure better positions both the network and the business to meet changing demands. This approach positions the CSP to offer new services at higher margins, reduce OPEX, and provide a business infrastructure strengthens competitive positioning in a converging marketplace. Potential benefits include cost reduction, improved efficiency, faster time to market, and new business models.

Customer retention strategy is an iterative process.

Customer retention is an iterative process, starting with capturing data, tracking performance, planning the offers across the customer lifecycle by building customer intelligence & engagement models, predicting behavior and taking action. The IBM RETAIN cloud based service for Telcos applies predictive models to drive retention and make the ‘next best offer’ to keep the subscriber from defecting to a competitor or churning to a lower value package.

The IBM team has experience working with CSP marketing teams to apply analytics that deliver results:

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3. Achieve Enterprise Excellence


Achieving enterprise excellence requires benchmarking operations against best of breed and closing the gaps to meet those standards. IBM’s Cloud Business Solutions for Telco incorporates the IBM Enterprise Process Improvement Continuum (EPIC) which includes process maturity techniques, continuous improvement and strong talent. When it comes to end-to-end process simplification, IBM has a global framework based on 15 key processes. These frameworks, supported with advanced analytics, help us to understand the client challenges, resolve complexities and focus on outcomes. Building on this foundation, we help organizations transform – creating the roadmap, aligning the stakeholders, applying our models around global shared services, outsourcing, and even build-operate-transfer models.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Top 4 Reasons Your Business Should Conduct a Network Assessment

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Why perform a network assessment?


There are a number of business benefits of conducting a network assessment. It goes far beyond a maintenance check – providing a key enabler for strategic planning and growth.

Undertaking a network assessment may include an analysis of security vulnerabilities, hardware and software alerts, inventory listing of your network devices, lifecycle information, coverage status and corresponding remedial actions.

Here are the top four reasons you should consider a network assessment:

Better manage business risks.

Network assessment enables network managers to identify risk areas in the network and address them accordingly. Knowing the extent of devices under service coverage and reaching end of support allows you to formulate action plans to reduce the potential costs and business risks of network outages. This helps improve network availability and reduce mean time restoration.

Network assessments provide visibility to uncovered devices that need to be placed under service contract. This ensures timely access to technical support resources when needed.

Network assessments also help you identify security vulnerabilities within the network, which leads to more effective mitigation of network security threats.

Optimise business performance

Understanding which devices have reached end of life means you have the opportunity to upgrade the network equipment to optimise network performance, better serving the needs of your business.

Improve business performance and strategic network architecture planning

CIOs focus on strategic planning of the organisations’ network architecture to support business growth and profitability. Network assessment is a data-driven approach to linking technology goals with business goals. Having a detailed view of the current state of your network supports you in making informed decisions about the strategy and roadmap of your network architecture development. You can also determine the readiness of your network and next steps in adopting next-generation technologies such as Cloud and Cognitive Computing. You now have the supporting data and metrics to build a stronger business case for network expansion and/or enhancements. This in turn accelerates the time to market for delivering new IT capabilities within your organization.

Improve financial management of assets

Network assessment is a useful asset management process for taxation, accounting and compliance. For Finance leaders, knowing which network devices are obsolete assists in planning and forecasting for their IT spend. The network assessment and associated reports also serve as an inventory management tool for internal reporting. Having advanced knowledge of the lifecycle status of your network devices helps reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) associated with downtime and equipment maintenance.

How to measure the ROI and business value of network assessments.


Forrester Consulting recently conducted a Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) study examining the potential return on investment (ROI) organisations may realise by performing a network assessment through IBM Intelligent Networking Support. The infographic below highlights the key areas of measurable financial impact and business results, such as a payback less than 12 months and realization of a significant 368% return.

Click on the image to view/download the full-size infographic.

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Friday, 16 March 2018

2018 is the year of security: Are you secure enough?

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Multiple security advisories in the recent past have shown how tirelessly security researchers work to identify and address vulnerabilities. With the extensive reach of the Internet, the digital space has become a hacker’s world.

Keeping your IT environment protected is an important part of any enterprise IT strategy. Having a vulnerability doesn’t necessarily mean something is compromised. However, it’s important to ensure vulnerabilities are addressed immediately, and a safe and secure environment is provided for business, and to enable comprehensive security layers within the data center so that a breach is prevented or, in the worst case, detected and eliminated immediately.

The old adage “Prevention is better than cure” applies to IT security as much as anything else today. So how do you make sure your business is secure enough?

Preventing IT security risks


IT security has multiple components. From simple things like subscribing to security alerts to complex things like engaging legal hackers to test your environment, there are many ways to proactively secure an IT environment. Server security is a crucial aspect of this. How can you prevent unauthorized access into your application and data environments?

A few years ago, clients weren’t very interested in security audits, but with a quick compliance check we could show them their vulnerabilities and make a strong case for taking better security hardening measures.

For example, during one migration project for a client we ran AIXpert (a bundled tool on the IBM AIX operating system for security compliance and hardening) and found a few vulnerabilities, including weak passwords, passwords that wouldn’t expire, users that had super user access and so forth. The organization’s head of IT was impressed at the efficiency of the tool, gave us a go-ahead to start a hardening project and provided a list of compliance rules that are important for their business. The resulting assessment and hardening activity ensured a secure and compliant environment.

We’ve come a long way in recent years, and today many clients request regular security checks. In IBM Power Systems, the focus on security is very high, and we take it seriously. IBM PowerSC was created a couple of years ago and has rich set of security features that provide security at various levels on IBM Power Systems.

How can IBM PowerSC help?


One important feature of PowerSC is that it provides ready-made hardening profiles based on security standards like PCI-DSS, HIPAA, SOX-COBIT and so forth. Complying with these standards is a mandatory requirement for most organizations, and system administrators often struggle to keep their systems compliant as these standards can be complex to understand. PowerSC security profiles prove to be handy since a system administrator can quickly deploy them to achieve the desire hardening. The profiles can be deployed as is or customized based on organizational needs. Hardening is not a one-time activity because systems may get out of compliance either accidentally or maliciously. PowerSC helps administrators to not only harden their systems, but also continuously monitor them and generate real-time alerts if the system goes out of compliance. Administrators will have peace of mind since they know they’ll get an immediate alert the moment there’s a compliance violation.

PowerSC also provides an automated patch management feature. Administrators no longer need to worry about questions like, is there is a new vulnerability announced? Does it affect my systems? How do I download the fix? How to patch? All this is automated by PowerSC. PowerSC automatically downloads patches, sends notifications to administrators, and if desired automatically patches the affected systems. Administrators can happily focus on other critical activities and leave the patch management task to PowerSC.

PowerSC has many other advanced security features, such as:

◈ Centralized log management
◈ Tracking changes to sensitive files
◈ Implementing firewall rules
◈ Detecting malware and rootkit attacks

Finally, PowerSC provides a user-friendly interface (GUI) to help you manage its features so you don’t have to learn new commands in order to implement security. The interface provides dashboard-style reporting, which helps administrators get a view of the security configuration of an entire data center in a few minutes.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Measure Education Coverage

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I want to share some thoughts around coverage. In general, there are lots of discussions around the question “Is your company having a good education coverage?” Most responses are negative. People do not have a clear definition on what education coverage is exactly. In the end, everybody has his own definition. Let us reflect a little bit about this topic so that next time you’re involved into a discussion around coverage, you have better arguments.

Overview


What is Education Coverage? How do we measure coverage? First, we need to define our audience. Let’s make this easy and talk only about Technical IT Education.

If you’re talking to clients of IT companies they’re asking primarily two questions: “are you delivering skills in a specific country?” If a company has more than one product, the second question is:” are you delivering skills for a certain product in a specific country?” From the view of an IT company it is a fact: clients will only use a product in a certain country if they are properly trained. This means that the two prior questions seem to be key to the coverage discussion.

Keep in mind that there are more questions possible related to Technical IT Education. For example questions about the delivery methodology or language. But these are not important if we measure coverage. As long as students accept training, we do not care. Once we have in parallel a measurement for successful training in a product it is not important how this happened in this context. We could discuss if other methodologies or languages could increase skills. But this is a business development consideration and doesn’t influence our basic definition. Here we want to focus on the definition of how to measure coverage.

As summary we can state that there are two things for which we need to find a measurement: the countries and the skills you need for a certain product.

Country Coverage


Moving now from Education Coverage to the details. Country coverage as a simple measurement is to count countries where at least one student gets trained in a year. It may sound easy to say “we’re covering a country with education” when just one student was trained, but it is the most basic measurement. There are lots of cases where you want to measure more: number of students compared to population, number of students compared to revenue etc.. You could come to an endless list of criteria. But take it back to the basics: One day you need to train your first student. Prior to having at least once student trained in a country you do not have to think about more complex criteria. So for our purpose we define “A country is treated as covered with education once one student per year received education”

Skill Coverage


IBM has developed a market-leading digital badges program to transform the way the IT industry develops and takes inventory of skills. The program was motivated by exactly what we’re speaking about. Find a measurable approach for skills when we talk about education coverage.

Specifically, the key organizational objectives behind the badges program were:

• Track skills at nano-level. Create a heat map of critical skills for achievements earned across the globe

• Solidify the client base.  Build advocacy and strengthening client relationship and commitment to IBM

• Build a developer base.  Increase the number of developers using IBM’s offerings

• Proliferate skills.  Build a vibrant and large pool of skilled talent to support our products and solutions

• Increase license sales.  Drive potential customers to act by downloading trial versions of our offerings upon badge completion

• Reduce customer service.  Motivate customers to develop skills in-house to reduce support calls and critical situations

Compared to any other measurement the success of the badges for IBM is unique. Today universities are starting to accept badges from the industry. I think there is no question that badges are the right way to measure product skills.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

IBM Transforming Retail Marketing Operations

Why do Retail CMOs need innovation in Retail Marketing Operations? Chief Marketing Officers in the Retail industry are challenged with improving the customer experience, growing revenue and building customer loyalty. There are increasingly new technologies and channels opening up presenting a need to evolve and incorporate new touch points into campaigns quickly.

Challenges of transforming retail marketing operations include:

1. Personalization – Lack of instrumentation and insights to deliver personalized experiences

2. Omnichannel – Difficulty in quickly identifying, including and managing customer engagement channels thereby limiting sales and marketing opportunities.

3. Acquire and retain new customers – Easy for customers to compare and shift

4. Speed – Need to shift quickly to new digital and mobile channels

5. Skills – Lack of marketing automation tool and analytics expertise

6. Customer Data – Increasing volume, difficult to rationalize and discern actionable insights

7. Costs – No additional budget available to support new initiatives

How can IBM help transform Retail Marketing Operations?


IBM has partnered with multiple retail clients to help transform their marketing processes by providing them with committed business outcomes like:

◈ Improved cross-selling
◈ Increased customer engagement and optimize promotional offers
◈ Responding faster to market dynamics
◈ Driving revenue growth with increased effectiveness of campaigns
◈ Reducing the cost of marketing operation and optimizing program spend

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IBM’s Managed Marketing Services consists of:

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IBM Managed Marketing Services helped a client to improve website conversion rates by USD 1.3 million in revenue within five months. Through analytics, content optimization and improved campaign execution, their purchase information page conversion rate increased from 1.4% to 23.3%

Through marketing mix optimization analytics, another client significantly increased total projected margins. IBM also helped the client streamline and standardize their analysis framework across units and brand teams to increase sales and improve ROI of marketing programs.

IBM Managed Marketing Services provides IT and analytics services so Retail CMOs can focus on their customers and strategy and they handle the technical execution.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Can Blockchain and Cognitive Analytics yield higher demand forecasting accuracy?

In the electronics industry nowadays, the average gross value of inventory (all types) as a percentage of revenue is 9,58 % (*), a pretty high ratio and proves that the cost of inventory is a matter of concern within the industry. High levels of inventory can be tackled in multiple ways, and it is widely agreed within the industry that a strong demand forecasting capability is cornerstone to healthy inventory levels.

On this post I want to share some ideas around demand forecasting framed in the context of the challenges the electronics industry is facing and some technologies that could have a positive impact in the demand forecasting.

Two Industry Shifts


◈ The shift in the buyer’s behavior. The users and consumers of electronics are everyday more informed, and they are more empowered too. With the spread use of social tools and increasing connectivity, they can now take better purchasing decisions, they can influence product development and they can radically affect product demand and brand image based on their perception posted on social networks.

◈ The shift in the industry marketplace.  Convergence is blurring boundaries between industries, new disruptive competition and technology advancement are re-shaping the industry and profit margins are shrinking. It is therefore important that companies look after cost and prevent inventory imbalances.

A closer look to demand forecasting


Electronic companies have been constantly looking for ways to improve demand forecasting, better manage supply in order to trim inventory levels. As opposed to what many people think, technology should have helped with better predictions, however many organizations are hitting the lowest demand forecast accuracy in years, and they are taking higher inventory carrying costs.

Throughout this year I’ve been thinking on how cognitive analytics and blockchain could help demand forecasting and the entire supply & demand loop. I certainly see a lot of potential on these 2 technologies as game-changers within the discipline and I would like to share some thoughts and ideas:

Cognitive Demand Forecasting


I have no doubt that a good cognitive analytic engine can help improve demand forecasting, by finding out new patterns and data insights in almost any time-series or causal-series methodology applied.  But the real value of cognitive analytics will come from its application into any of the demand forecasting qualitative methods.

Cognitive analytics has the ability to distill the social sentiment from social & collaborative networks. It also provides relevant insights from news feeds or analyst reports and get key information from unstructured data sources, like for instance, previous planning cycles files, sales ops. inputs or any other corpus of data coming from mails, text messages, chat messages, audio, video and other. Any source of data is valid input for cognitive demand forecasting and the best out of it is that it can be used repeatedly, in near real time and with unprecedented speed.

Some interesting use cases could be:

1. Generation of demand signals. Cognitive analytics could enrich the quality of near real-time inputs to demand sensing techniques, thus improving demand forecasting accuracy.

2. Enhanced Delphi Method, Why not helping experts be more experts? Cognitive analytics could enhance this method providing a well structured, near real-time insights on what the buyer is commenting about the product and brand.

3. Cognitive monitoring of macro-economics. The ability to analyze chunks of text, unstructured data of any sorts (image, video, audio, etc.) delivers a rounded flavor to macro economic analysis.

4. Risk-weighed demand models. Adding new cognitive analytics around risk insights to perform trade-off analytics, next best action in demand models.

These are realizable ideas that will improve demand forecasting accuracy. Moreover, the cognitive analytical layer can be applied in other areas like demand planning, supply planning, demand management, S&OP’s, Sales quota planning, etc.

Blockchain in Supply & Demand


As long as the supply chain becomes more intricate with globalization, the number of input sources and players participating on demand forecasting grows. Multiple tiered suppliers, several manufacturing sites, warehouses and other distribution centers scattered across the globe and managed by 3PL’s and EMS. The marketing, sales and distribution organizations also are becoming more complex and with more business partners and distributors in the game.  Last but definitely not the least, the consumers / users are empowered as I mentioned previously. This leads to multiple record keeping efforts and lots of inefficiency in reconciling files and information.

A permissioned blockchain – as one type of distributed ledger system –  is the other technology I believe can bring lots of value to demand forecasting as a mean to keep one shared record of information around the supply and demand triad:

1. Demand forecasting.
2. Supply planning & commit.
3. (actual) demand management.

Having the outputs of these three elements shared in one distributed ledger ledger would eliminate a lot of unproductive reconciliation work and it would allow organizations to focus on what matters the most: to react to unexpected demand swings, and to run forecasting cycles with higher accuracy.

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Supply and demand gains accuracy with cognitive analytics and permissioned blockchain

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Building a community around machine learning and AI

Let’s be honest. Machine learning is a complicated space! Two minutes on Google looking into the topic is guaranteed to leave you more confused than when you started. So where can you find help from others who are working in this space?

If you’ve ever thought “AI sounds pretty cool; we should probably be doing that,” you’ve no doubt also asked yourself:

◈ Where to get started
◈ Which framework to choose (there are probably millions)
◈ Whether to use a cloud or physical infrastructure
◈ Where to deploy your model
◈ How to collate or model your data

There are numerous questions to ask and design choices to make before you even start doing machine learning, and most don’t have one right answer. But there are also numerous resources online to help inform your decisions.

In every corner of the globe, people are researching new machine learning techniques, new ways to model data and derive better insights or find new routes to market. In the time it’s taken me to write this blog post, someone will have written an article on a new, better way of defining neural networks.

At first glance, this wealth of information may seem daunting, but it’s nothing to be afraid of; it’s a jewel in the crown of the AI/machine learning space. The fact that there are so many people building tutorials, creating demos and writing articles and blogs is awesome.

This community of collaborators, who often don’t even realize they’re collaborating, is the reason machine learning and AI are being adopted so quickly and the technology is improving at the rate it is. We wouldn’t be where we are today without that community.

Open source frameworks and the OpenPOWER Foundation


Take TensorFlow, for example. Google decided to make its machine learning framework and tooling open source because sharing these amazing technologies with a wider community helps them grow and helps mature the platform to solve issues for other organizations.

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There are 1,325 contributors to the TensorFlow project working together to build the best software tooling for machine learning. Without this community, we wouldn’t be using machine learning as readily as we can, and we certainly wouldn’t have the tutorials and articles that make this space accessible.

And it’s not just TensorFlow. There are hundreds of frameworks striving to make machine learning accessible through better tooling and better documentation.

In fact, it’s not just software!

Machine learning brings a unique set of infrastructure challenges. It’s a hugely complex technical compute challenge that puts a massive strain on physical systems. The OpenPOWER Foundation is doing the “open source” thing for hardware — applying the principles of open collaboration and innovation to the servers themselves.

We’re now designing and building systems specifically engineered to tackle these workloads as quickly as possible, meaning that we can train our models faster and build bigger things!

Meetups and real people


Everything I’ve mentioned so far involves digital interactions between collaborators, but finding a community around machine learning doesn’t have to happen digitally. You can get off the internet (once you’ve finished reading and sharing my blog post of course) and go meet people in your area who are coming together to share their passion, knowledge and challenges with AI and machine learning.

IBM Systems Lab Services has several PowerAI meetups specifically focused on accelerated frameworks and IBM Power Systems for you to get involved in across the world.

There’s a whole wealth of machine learning Meetup communities too. Through these events you can meet people to discuss the technology and how you can use it in your business. In my experience, everyone in these groups comes with the same open, altruistic mind-set that infuses the digital communities. It’s about sharing ideas and learning from each other. It’s about meeting face to face, getting to know people who are willing to help each other and share expertise.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Conquer the data deluge: Modernize & transform your storage

Is your organization analyzing increasing volumes of data to provide customized solutions for your clients and consumers?

If data analysis has become a key part of your business, you need a storage infrastructure that supports the increasing volume of data, but growing your storage infrastructure can increase both storage costs and storage management complexity. Consequently, many IT organizations are facing a number of difficult challenges:

◈ Aligning IT and business strategies
◈ Reducing IT complexity in light of explosive data growth
◈ Managing resource constraints — budgets, staffing, skills
◈ Leveraging existing technologies while integrating new ones

Solving these issues is a balancing act of supporting traditional and new workloads.

◈ Traditional workloads typically utilize storage area network (SAN) or block storage. The data in traditional workloads is mostly structured in nature, and data growth is typically predictable and steady. Some examples include: databases, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), email, virtual desktops and virtual machines.

◈ New workloads are next-generation applications utilizing file, object and cloud storage. The data is mostly unstructured in nature, and data growth is typically less predictable, more volatile. Examples include: big data, analytics, cognitive, cloud, high-performance computing (HPC), the Internet of Things (IoT), social media and mobile.

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To succeed in this balancing act, organizations need to start by improving the efficiency of their traditional workload environments, while continuing to deliver high levels of service. Next, they need to utilize the savings derived from efficiency gains and invest in new application infrastructure to support these new, agile, elastic workloads.

Storage Infrastructure Optimization can help


Innovative technologies and solutions are available to help organizations support both traditional and new workloads and successfully balance the two. However, selecting the right solutions and developing a roadmap for implementation, while maintaining your existing systems and service levels, can be a daunting task.

To address these needs, IBM Systems Lab Services has developed a set of offerings to help companies corral their growing storage infrastructure, called Storage Infrastructure Optimization (SIO). The Storage Infrastructure Optimization – Modernize & Transform module is one of five modules in the SIO offering.  If you need to evaluate and optimize your storage infrastructure, your assessment may consist of one or more modules, depending on your priorities and goals.

The SIO – Modernize & Transform module


The SIO – Modernize & Transform module identifies your requirements as well as gaps in your existing storage environment and provides a transformation path to help you gain maximum efficiency while enabling new workloads and innovation. The module focuses on the modernization of traditional storage systems needed to lower costs so that you can invest in storage infrastructure for next-generation applications.

Here are some of its benefits:

◈ Align your storage objectives and priorities with those of the overall organization.
◈ Reduce costs, improve performance, decrease complexity and increase the flexibility of your storage infrastructure.
◈ Establish a strategic storage plan with a roadmap reflecting tactical and medium- to long-term actions to transform your storage environment.
◈ Minimize your effort through a focused and rapid environment analysis producing insightful and actionable

If it feels like your storage infrastructure is struggling against a deluge of data, now is the time to look for ways to modernize and transform it to prepare for new workloads.