Technology and Culture: A Chicken and Egg Debate

By Joseph Do, CEO MindLink

Embracing digital technology is not just a business necessity, but also a smart cultural move. The evolution of technology has invariably prompted cultural change within organisations across the globe, but should it act as the primary driver for it?

Whilst technology can act as a trigger, it is an organisation’s culture that has the power to nurture forward-thinking tech adoption and ultimately improve long-term business growth.

The global business proliferation for technology that bridges the gap between social and enterprise means organisations are being forced to evolve to meet the changing technological needs of their workforce.

For example, The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is making a whole host of additional communication and technologies available in the workplace. Research shows that by 2016, 1.62 billion mobile devices will be in use on a daily basis in the workplace. It is because of findings like this that organisations need to be open to change and willing to embrace the forward-thinking nature of employees and the culture of business.

It is down to business leaders to take an open approach to new technology and consider how it will impact the people within their organisation. Just because a company has a progressive, corporate culture doesn’t necessarily mean employees understand how best to utilise digital tools. People will have to want to learn to yield and progress, so training remains essential if culture and technology are going to work together and have a real impact on company performance and revenue.

The spread of collaboration tools has cemented online communication as a completely new mode of operation for employees. Businesses should be looking to invest in smart collaboration tools instead of viewing them as an expense.

So first things first, what are the key components of a tech-friendly corporate culture?

Support

Without sufficient investment in staff development and training, technology will never reach its full potential within a business. Providing the right level of technical support and offering training to employees shows a company’s commitment and sense of support. It is important to go beyond just making tools available to a workforce and hoping people will naturally adopt them.

Open

The future success of a business relies on being open to new ideas and embracing new processes and structures rather than being resistant to them. It is up to business leaders to have an outlook that not only accepts, but also understands, how technology can benefit their business. No good will come from holding onto antiquated communication, leadership, management or sales structures in the hyper-connected, modern business environment.

Trust

As with most relationships, trust is key. Businesses must trust their employees if they want to capitalise on the potential of a fully mobile, collaborative workforce. Many people would agree that you can’t fight the BYOD culture (and in effect any digital culture) and why should businesses want to? This ‘always on’ way of working is an advantage for an organisation if it ensures precise guidelines for usage and compliance are laid out and sufficient security policies are in place. Establishing communication as well as knowledge sharing platforms will enable staff to work more efficiently and in a more connected way, whilst also helping businesses to benchmark the productivity of employees no matter where they are.

Collaborative

People within the organisation need to be open about sharing knowledge and insight in order to benefit the wider company rather than their own personal development. This means the mentality of a workforce is vital to maximising any new technology, especially when it comes to collaboration tools and software. A collaborative culture is needed before any new technologies are introduced while everyone needs to be working towards the same goals. If this collective attitude is commonplace within an organisation then there will be a natural fit when collaborative technologies are introduced.

There is no question that technology impacts working practices, but a receptive and open corporate culture must exist for technology to have a positive effect on business processes – rather than a disruptive or, worse still, damaging impact on performance.

Cultivating the right attitude at every level of your business is the best place to start building the solid foundations that will support technological innovation. There should be a symbiotic relationship between technology and corporate culture, as neither technology nor culture can succeed in improving a business’s performance in isolation.

Online and Offline Technologies Converge onto a Single Platform

By Rob Garf, VP of Industry Strategy & Insights, Demandware

I had the privilege to team with Tom Litchford, VP of Technology at NRF, and Anita Bhappu, Professor at University of Arizona, on ground breaking research in the retail industry. The study, Digitising the Store – The Wave of Online and Offline Convergence, collected data from more than 200 U.S. and European retail business technology executives. The data showed that nearly 40 percent of retailers want a single platform to manage consumer interactions and transactions across all channels. And twice as many retailers plan to leverage eCommerce (38 percent) over traditional point of sale (POS) systems (19 percent) to support this strategic direction. In this article, we address some of the opportunities and challenges omni-channel enablement presents for retailers today, as well as some of the drivers encouraging retailers to make the change.

A Single Platform

The new retail reality will be better served by a single platform at the center of the consumer shopping experience. A single platform simplifies the technology environment, serving as the bridge between the virtual and physical shopping worlds. This capability enables retailers to move at the speed of consumers, while also consolidating and managing key data elements, business rules, and functionality that historically lived in multiple systems. As a result, retailers can deliver a seamless shopping experience across channels. And this aligns with what retailers are looking for. According to the study, retail leaders stated a single platform should enhance customer service, standardise business processes, and increase store associate productivity.

New Technology Breaks Traditional Store Formats

There will be significant store investments as retailers aggressively break tradition by launching new store formats, revamping aging locations, testing new concepts, and bringing digital capabilities into the four walls. In fact, 80 percent of retailers surveyed expect to maintain or increase store technology investments over the next three years.

Many of these investments are targeted at the traditional POS system, with 70 percent of retail executives reporting that their organisation is currently deploying or planning to refresh its existing software in the next three years. This POS refresh cycle––which historically occurred approximately every 12 years––has prompted technology leaders to rethink traditional store-centric software, along with other consumer-facing technology, and consider a single commerce instance across channels.

POS Supplanted by eCommerce Technology

Since the advent of the electronic cash register in 1974, traditional store-based POS systems have managed nearly all retail transactions. It took 30 years and the emergence of the Internet for another technology––and channel––to chip away at the status quo. In fact, Forrester Research1 predicts that eCommerce will reach $371 billion by 2017 in the U.S. alone, when it will account for 10 percent of all retail sales. Perhaps even more significant, Forrester estimates that half (49.5 percent) of total U.S. retail sales today are impacted by the web in some way––comprised of both direct eCommerce sales (8.4 percent) and U.S. retail sales influenced by shopping activity of some kind conducted online before consumers buy in stores or elsewhere (an additional 41.3 percent). Check out Tom Litchford’s take on the evolution of traditional POS.

Over the past 15 years, eCommerce functionality, architecture and extendibility designed for online shopping have surpassed store POS applications. As a result, traditional POS, call center and mobile technologies that directly interact with consumers are increasingly being supplanted by eCommerce to establish a single consumer platform.

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Source: Copyright 2014. National Retail Federation. All Rights Reserved.

Retailers Must Proactively Address Key Technology Imperatives

Before retailers can truly reap the benefits of investments made in a single platform to connect the online and offline world, they need to consider the following three overarching imperatives to take advantage of this unprecedented change the retail industry is experiencing.

1.     Understand Market and Internal Landscape: Retailers must understand the broader marketplace and current state of technology solutions, as well as the internal structure of their organisation and key stakeholders.

2.     Establish Technology Roadmap: Retail executives we surveyed highlighted the challenges involved with complex migrations of legacy systems to a new environment and the need for significant capital investment for a “big bang” approach. The transformation to extend a singular platform across channels—particularly into physical stores—won’t and can’t happen overnight. Retailers need to develop their own technology roadmap that defines success, supports business initiatives and defines a path with clear milestones.

3.     Drive Continual Innovation: Consumer demands are changing at a rapid pace and innovation is currency in the shopping experience. Innovation and speed are not one-time events. Instead, they must become standard operating procedure, made possible by a flexible and scalable platform.

With simplified architecture, synchronised data and real-time intelligence, a single platform presents great opportunities for retailers to deliver a seamless and consistent consumer experience across any channel. But there are steps a retailer must take to ensure the evolution of the store is done at the retailer’s pace, in a manner that makes sense for their organisation.

Could CIOs be more important than CEOs when it comes to business transformation?

Charlie Mayes, Managing Director, DAV Management

According to analysts at Forrester, CIO’s are now viewed as the most important senior leaders in driving business transformation, with many believing them to have more input than a CEO.

In a recent report, Forrester highlighted the CIO’s key role in supporting business transformation, with technology being a primary enabler for change and playing a key part in breaking down barriers within an organisation’s structure. Their view was backed by a survey of respondents from the US and Europe involved in business transformation programmes within the last three years.  29 percent of survey respondents believed that the CIO was the most important figure in terms of supporting and driving business change. This was the highest amongst the C-suite, and more than that of the CEO, which was seen as most important by 24 percent of respondents, alongside the chief technology officer.

The role of the CIO has changed dramatically in the last decade. Technology now forms the backbone of most businesses, where it is a major enabler of change and a driver for sustainable competitive advantage. It’s no surprise, therefore, to discover that IT has become a key component of organisational planning and strategy. As such, today’s CIOs need well developed business and leadership skills, in addition to their more traditional technical abilities, in order to operate successfully at this level.

The magnitude and complexity of responsibility has also increased. Time was when the IT leadership was just about implementing technology and delivering projects to time and budget.  Clearly these things remain important but they are now hygiene factors.  What really matters for the new generation of CIOs is delivering value to the business, whether this comes from the way in which they support the day-to-day operations, ensuring that business and IT strategies are aligned or by helping to deliver IT-enabled business transformation.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the latter, findings contained in the Forrester report suggest that many CIOs still have some way to go.  The report identified four types of individual:

  • Soldiers or Order-Takers – These CIO’s do not have the ear of the project leader in the way that other CIO’s often do. According to Forrester, they account for roughly 10% of CIOs and should, as a minimum, make sure that the business leaders are aware of the potential pitfalls of a project and highlight the most damaging mistakes to any allies with greater influence on a project.
  • Leaders of IT – This group successfully balances IT and enterprise business needs and is capable of ensuring that the appropriate IT functions are involved in a transformation project, as well as providing a wider enterprise focus. Leaders of IT account for the majority of CIOs, approximately 70%.
  • Change Consultants – According to Forrester, around one in 10 CIOs have extensive experience in advising and consulting on the business transformation process having been involved in projects in the past and are able to implement templates, best practices and learning from other companies.
  • Transformation Leaders – This group is given or takes the responsibility (either hands on or as a sponsor) to lead the transformation themselves. They ensure effective resource application, funding and progress tracking, and report directly to the CEO. According to Forrester this CIO role is relatively uncommon and accounts for around 5-10% of CIOs.

Many CIOs are evolving into business leaders and are proactively encouraging business innovation. However, not all are moving in this direction. In our experience it is still very much dependent on the individual and the relationship that he or she has with the organisation.  Other factors such as culture, the agenda for change and the nature of the relationship with other leaders in the business, will also shape the role and responsibility of a CIO.  Inevitably, there are those CIOs that have a keen understanding of the business and approach technology from a business driven perspective, and there are those that are born and bred technologists.

So that leaves us with the original question – could CIOs be more important than CEOs when it comes to business transformation? They could indeed, but the variation of skills and approach in CIOs remains vast.  Few CIOs today can be regarded as change consultants or transformation leaders according to Forrester’s definition. Many simply don’t yet have the experience of leading and driving large-scale technology enabled business change programmes to successful conclusions.  But I believe this is changing with CIOs increasingly maturing into true business leaders.  As they develop their skill sets, garner business experience in the wider organisation rather than just in IT and function more entrepreneurially (whilst retaining a ruthless focus on good business practice), then I think we’ll see a new breed of CIO that is well equipped to lead and deliver business transformation.

We Can Fix a Leaky Digital Branding System in 2014

By Chip Meyer, CEO of Reactx

After years of grumbling, industry-wide complaints about wasted brand spending and missed opportunities for publisher revenue have reached a fever pitch. Earlier in February, Netscape co-founder turned big-time VC investor, Marc Andreessen, let loose on Twitter about how tech vendors are continuing to drop the ball in digital branding, and how publishers are failing to hold ad tech companies to a higher standard. “The issue,” he tweeted, “is that most ad tech is optimizing against the local maxima of price, rather than consumer relevancy.” Immediately a chorus of notable voices from both the vendor and publisher sides chimed in to support Andreessen’s sentiments (there’s certainly something to it).

Andreessen’s argument was simple: We see too many poorly-targeted ads with poor ad content, which does no one any favors. The core problems he hinted at go fairly deep. For brands and publishers to thrive in a digital setting, we need to see a more advanced alignment of brands ads and publisher content. Tech companies need to take advantage of media that delivers highly relevant, targeted ads across quality content, to make programmatic the valuable digital branding tool its proponents have long claimed it could be. And campaign performance must be measured in a way that makes sense for the way 21st century consumers interact with content and ads, rather than concentrating on click-throughs or assuming every impression is worth the same as any other impression delivered to the same targeted consumer.

It’s a tall order, but that’s what brands and publishers want, regardless of whether or not they know how to ask for all of it right now. They will soon enough, and there are vendors in the market right now who are happy to deliver the goods.

Brand marketers also demand rich content — like page take-overs, overlays, skins, peels, IAB Rising Starts, rich video and a variety of other dynamic digital ad creative that is needed for the depth and rich feel branding necessitates. However, for programmatic to serve these high impact, custom premium ads that brand needs to move the needle for branding online, the industry at large needs to get over the old idea of having to pre-qualify them (i.e. pre-determining that custom digital ad format will render properly on a specific publisher’s domain or page, before it is served).

Pre-qualifying custom ads is holding up the delivery of billions of dollars in high-quality, engaging digital ad content served via Real Time Bidding (RTB). The process of pre-qualifying digital ads is fraught with costly RFPs and custom one-off creative development for individual publisher domains and pages. It’s effectively neutering the speed and scale advantages of programmatic and impression level targeting, turning the delivery of custom ads into a time-consuming, clumsy and expensive process that is not adaptive to cross-device designs and auto-customization of creative and brand messaging. Pre-qualifying ad is a poor fit for the highly competitive, real-time digital environment. By eliminating pre-qualification for custom ads, brand marketers and publishers will save nearly $5 billion in what is now simply wasted spending — money they should be spending with publishers instead of on coders.

Let’s look at measurement. Andreessen hinted at something very important here: Not all impressions are created equal, even when they’re delivered to the same consumer. What matters is how the consumer engages with the ad, and the content around the ad, where it’s served. To that end, we need to look at new metrics for ad engagement, like time spent with the ad. If the consumer spends more time with the content around an ad, that’s a more valuable placement than one where the consumer quickly clicks away. Understanding time spent with the ad can be a great boon for publishers to entice brand marketers to shift their spending from television to digital. For marketers, taking advantage of metrics around time spent with the ad is simply good branding.

The seeds have been planted for an industry-wide move toward more premium, high impact (relevant) ad placements and metrics. In the coming year, an increasing number of solutions will be suggested for the problems of garbage ads and wasted spending. But for change to happen, brands and publishers need to understand what smart branding and smart measurement mean today. Whatever happens, buyers and sellers alike will have to adjust their mentality — and the tools they use — to account for the value of branding in a digital environment.

Do you know what you’re working with?

By Steve Denner, co-founder and director Adestra

Technology is well and truly in the hands of the masses – almost 80% of UK consumers own a smartphone. I recently read that in 1991 the cost of buying all the iPhone components would have been around £2million – but are we really making the most of all the computing power now available at our fingertips?

Remaining up to date with the latest technology can be difficult. As soon as you’ve got to grips with the capabilities of the latest tablet or games console, the next model is already being prepared for release. This game of cat and mouse also applies to marketers, who need to maximise the technologies available to them, meeting (and even predicting) customers’ needs.

But as businesses and consumers rush ahead, are we missing out on anything, from handy user shortcuts to deep-rooted capabilities? The promise of automation carries the same risk for marketers looking to simplify their strategies at speed. Once businesses have invested in marketing automation programmes, they need to ask: are we getting the most out the increased functionality at our disposal?

There’s a danger that business leaders could adopt an attitude along the lines of: “we might not use all the functionality we’ve invested in just now, but it’s good to know we’ve got it”. This increasingly common sentiment proves that marketers aren’t making the most of the functions they’ve invested in, and are wasting money in the process. This could be the result of a lack of knowledge about how to use the technology – or an overestimation of the technology companies actually need. Both represent a waste of resources for marketers.

I don’t mean to suggest that marketers are at fault here, but simply that technology is evolving so rapidly that there isn’t always sufficient time to adequately train marketers to maximise the potential of new technologies. In their bid to keep abreast of consumer expectations and technological developments, businesses might also be investing in automation systems without accurately evaluating their brand’s actual requirements. Without understanding basic brand needs and objectives, technology will never be able to fulfil them.

To make the most of any automation investment, marketers must make sure they have the right people in place to implement and maintain their systems. If not, the next stage is to skill-up, skill-shift or recruit new talent into the workforce. These are implications that technology vendors should be able to advise and help clients with. It’s risky and, quite frankly, inaccurate to assume that one person alone is capable of developing successful and profitable large-scale automated marketing campaigns – even with the help of powerful technology.

One way to ensure marketers fully understand and capitalise on the potential of a specific marketing automation system is to work with a partner who can offer valuable on-going support and guidance. The benefits of working with third-party customer service experts include real-time support, training, project management or access to specialist designers. On-site and third party expertise provides much needed backup for automated campaigns.

If marketers are armed with powerful technology, given expert insight and training and have access to tech support, they have a far better chance of winning the battle to drive customer loyalty, and unleashing the full potential of automated marketing strategies and campaigns.

London’s Wearable Tech Show 2014

By Rupert Cook, Business Development Director at Gekko

Last week saw London’s Olympia host the UK’s first ever Wearable Technology Conference and Expo dedicated to showcasing the latest developments in smartwatches, wristbands and other wearable devices. With speakers from Microsoft, Google, Samsung and Intel, the show promised a lot, but did it live up to the hype?

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Technology – the marketing team’s (not so) secret weapon

By Mike England, content director, Connected Business Expo

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the modern organisation – from enhancing efficiency and enabling a flexible workforce, to daily operations and meeting objectives, both on a localised departmental level and on a broader, strategic level. In the marketing arena particularly technology can be used to assist an organisation in a number of ways, including developing a better customer experience, using various sources of data to better understand customers’ needs, and creating a more agile team.

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‘Angry Nerds’: Brits infuriated by business speak, tormented by techno babble

By blurgroup.com

The man and woman in the street are fed up with blue sky thinking outside the box, and feel that running it up the flagpole will not result in anything cutting edge.

Moving forward, this cutting edge paradigm is unlikely to be actioned or benefit from a roadmap

In a survey of the most hated business phrases, conducted by blur Group – the company reinventing commerce at blurGroup.com – Brits made their feelings clear: and red-flagged the worst offenders.

The top 10 are:

  • Outside the box
  • Blue sky thinking
  • Run it up the flagpole
  • Brainstorming
  • Level playing field
  • Paradigm
  • Cutting edge
  • Action it
  • Moving forward
  • Roadmap

When it comes to technology phrases, terms such as ‘deployment’, ‘portal’ and ‘elasticity’ are widely understood – if not liked – but people are still cloudy about cloud computing; 20% of us don’t fully understand what it means.

And even under anonymous survey conditions, respondents were so keen to display a working knowledge of tech that many claimed to know about ‘zoomblogging’, a made-up phrase. Asked to provide specifics, 60% of those surveyed admitted they did not know the actual meaning of the word.

Hearteningly, 75% said that they would ask during a conversation if they were unclear on a specific term, 10% said they would smile, nod and look the term up later, and only 7% said they would feel stupid.

blur CEO Philip Letts believes that the integration of tech language is positive as long as terminology can be demystified by the industry.

“If one fifth of Brits aren’t fully sure of what the cloud is, it’s little wonder that the b2b sector is taking significant time to embrace the possibilities of today’s technology and innovation,” he says.

“The only way to tackle that head on is to help customers feel comfortable with learning and experiencing cloud-based applications.”

Security is Only as Good as its Manager

By Klaus Gheri, vice president and general manager of network
security, Barracuda Networks

The technology behind network security is evolving all the time, with years of enhancements and continuous intelligence added to security technologies such as firewalls. All this is designed to improve processes and minimise the risk of human error impacting businesses. However, there is one element that limits the effectiveness of the security in any business – the IT manager.

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Change Detection Technology has Changed – For the Better

BMark Kedgley, CTO, New Net Technologies

Few experts would argue against the importance of real-time file integrity monitoring (FIM) in an era of fast changing and sophisticated security threats. It is literally impossible to second guess the method of a breach and therefore the ‘last line of defence’ detection offered by FIM has never been more critical.

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