Verint Engage
VendorSphere: Verint’s Intelligent Virtual Assistant Experience
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I recently attending the Verint Engage event in Sydney, with over 700 customers, where conversations on artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics garnered a lot of attention. Verint showcased deployments of intelligent conversational bots by some of the biggest brands in Asia Pacific including Spark NZ, Suncorp and AAMI. They have had an established presence in areas of quality monitoring, analytics, knowledge management and compliance. In 2018, the company acquired Next IT, a provider of conversational AI virtual assistants, to accelerate their move in the automation and analytics space. Verint’s choice of Next IT was driven by the need to provide their customers with a solution that has deep expertise in the contact centre space and to have an automation solution that is deeply integrated into their broad portfolio of solutions.

Last week, Verint announced the launch of AI Blueprint, a conversation analysis system that identifies intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) use cases and accelerates automation. The solution then delivers a “blueprint” of precisely how businesses can get started with AI or continue to grow their AI capabilities.

Key Takeaways:

  • Stakeholder engagement. For a successful deployment, many organisations had to involve senior management in the discussion. These ranged from CIOs, CDOs and CEOs. The conversation around automation and AI for customer service is no longer contained within the contact centre. Many organisations spoke about having senior management involved in the pre and post launch of the virtual assistant deployment. Getting buy-in and feedback from senior management is key as the AI discussion becomes part of a broader digital strategy for the organisation. The global Ecosystm AI study, which is live and ongoing on the Ecosystm platform, also finds that senior management is the second highest influencer for AI procurement and implementation.
  • Embedded analytics. Organisations at the Verint Engage event also highlighted that the route to a successful intelligent virtual assistant deployment is to embed knowledge management and analytics capabilities to the AI platform. By failing to incorporate knowledge management and analytics, the intelligent virtual assistant experience will be poor leaving customers frustrated.
  • Contact centre experience. Organisations that have switched to Verint from other larger brands for their intelligent assistant solution, did not do so only for the cost of solution, but also because they felt that these vendors offered an AI solution but lacked an understanding of the contact centre environment. The success according to some of these organisations is working with a vendor that has deep expertise in understanding and managing CX. The importance of compliance, training, speech analytics, coaching and quality monitoring is deeply embedded into Verint’s capabilities and organisations are finding that as being a critical element in the overall deployment of AI.
  • The right balance. Several of the organisations highlighted the savings realised, when the deployment was done well and fully integrated into knowledge management. Automation will in the long run help reduce contact centre calls and live chat costs. However, it was emphasised that the agent or human element remains important and cannot be ignored. Weighing how you deployed both AI and Voice must be considered carefully.

Ecosystm Comment:

Virtual assistants need to be fed the right information to make the discussion with the customer engaging.  A solid knowledge management strategy is key to the success of a virtual assistant deployment. Without analytics and knowledge management at its core, the CX will be poor leaving customers frustrated with the chat bot and not wanting to deal with machines. When deployed well, the virtual assistant can help enhance the CX. It is important for contact centres to not rely on full automated CX when dealing with customers. The ability to still have the human touch is critical and cannot be ignored. Designing the experience to ensure a seamless hand off to the agent when automation cannot handle the queries is important.

Verint is starting to win deals in the AI and Virtual assistant space with some of the largest brands in the Asia Pacific region and these include in the Financial Services and Utilities sectors. They appear to be on the right track by not relying on virtual assistants alone, but on an all-encompassing solution across self-service, analytics, knowledge management, quality monitoring and compliance. This end-to-end approach will play a crucial role when helping organisations address CX in a digital world.

 

 

 

 

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IoT fueling Digital Ecosystem-to-enable-widespread-Digital-Transformation-2
Hannover Messe 2019 gives a Glimpse of Future IoT-Based Digital Exchanges
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Is the IoT fueling a Digital Ecosystem to enable widespread Digital Transformation?

Ready or not, digital transformation (DX) is here and is already revealing its impact on every aspect of our lives. In some cases, the transformation is obvious. Take the way we call for a ride-share or taxi, find a room to stay, or chat to a robot for your favourite song – these are all part of mainstream DX. More subtle examples, with a Digital Ecosystem working behind the scenes, can be found in things like checking out at the retail store without ever opening your wallet or jumping into the latest automobile and getting your directions mapped out for you.

DX is often described as the integration of digital technology into all areas of business while changing how you operate and deliver value to customers. Advancements involving cloud computing, analytics, social and mobile technologies are reshaping the customer experience (CX) and opening the door for innovation and new business services. DX is also a cultural change that requires organisations to continually experiment with new ideas while being comfortable with failure and accepting that speed has become a business imperative for everyone.

DX will fundamentally change the way we think about creating a product and how we take it to market. Gone are the days of ‘make and sell’— that is, finding a market (after the fact) for the latest bright and shiny invention or innovation and forgetting about the “thing” that’s left behind with the customer. We have flipped from building stagnant technology-for-technology’s sake, as well as having little or no real-time information about most of the product’s lifecycle, to now creating customer-centric solutions teeming with data about everything at all times.

What’s fueling this major shift? The widespread connection of things to the Internet that had never been connected before, including machine-to-machine connectivity. All thanks to embedded smart sensors making IoT an omnipresent phenomenon. By 2025 there will be over 80 billion ‘things’ connected to the Internet which in turn will provide input to feed digitally transformed companies. Industrial business models everywhere will also flip to a ‘sense and respond’ environment where customers and suppliers will know almost everything there is to know about the service or product being sold and delivered to us (within the realms of data privacy regulations).

The Emergence of the Digital Exchange

In the midst of this DX there is vast opportunity: a new customer engagement model to make things better and easier for everyone. Digital businesses cannot be built and serviced by a single supplier – it’s just too complex. There are too many new sources of IoT data that are used to feed business systems and to drive outcomes. Instead, we are seeing businesses that serve the same set of customers from consortia or digital ecosystems or digital exchanges made up of a wide range of participants with an equally wide range of talents and needs.

As more companies become digital, we expect that there will be thousands of ecosystems in existence across every industry. In this collaborative environment, companies with a mutual interest in a particular industry — sometimes crossing traditional industry lines — will join a digital exchange whereby they can openly innovate and scale their business by tapping in to a global community. Just think of the power and value of the exchange as being similar to the network effect (something like Metcalfe’s Law) whereby the more the participants engage in activities in the exchange, the more value everyone gets out of the digital exchange. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella calls this “creating more surplus outside us.”

Some of the key benefits we can expect from the digital exchange are:

  • Co-innovation between startups looking for partners and established vendors looking for external ideas for product improvement
  • Collaboration to solve like-minded industry challenges
  • Creation of open and interoperable tools to speed up new products and services offerings
  • Ability to leverage a large and diverse set of partners who can help each other discover new markets and services within their own industry and beyond

Digital exchanges can be wild and confusing, and they may seem disorganised to the newcomer. Think of the first impression you have when you walk into a large open-air market selling antiques. Initially everything seems to be piled into stalls with no logical reason. However, to the experienced shopper and stall owner, there is an organised manner to it that makes sense. And there are many wonderful things waiting to be revealed.

At this year’s Hannover Messe an original example of a digital exchange was rolled out by Schneider Electric called Schneider Electric Exchange — their digital ecosystem and business platform. Schneider Electric Exchange also has a structure to it that is geared up to help specific roles or personas and make it easier for anyone to find the right partner for solving specific business challenges. It is also set up to step someone through the life-cycle process of creating a solution by connecting them to the right tools with the right partners for the right markets. Business value can be created within the Exchange but is equally powerful outside when delivered to the end user. For example, building management designers can use Schneider Electric Exchange to find partners who are also experts of emerging technologies such as digital twins, 3D-Print, AR, and analytics.

We believe that digital exchanges will create immediate economic benefits by reducing friction and inefficiencies in the overall customer supply chain. Participants will be able to innovate faster and deliver quicker — even as customers’ experiences and expectations rise, evolve, and change at the lightning pace of the digital economy. Over time we expect that vendors’ Net Promoter Score (NPS) to rise as a result of improved business processes from these exchanges.

In conclusion, IoT will be the pebble that creates the ripple in the DX pond. Data will be created from every sensor that will be used to create competitive differences at every stage of a company’s value chain. Businesses that do not embrace the use of the data and innovate themselves as well as their products do run the risk of being very quickly disrupted. Companies also do not have the financial and technical resources to do all of this by themselves – hence, the opportunity to be part of a digital exchange is the way to be agile, cost-effective, and competitive. Every time, businesses that waited while a new ‘industrial revolution’ was taking place, lost out. Today, who will dare to disrupt instead of being disrupted? We are at the tipping point of digital transformation and there is no time left to sit on the sidelines – businesses need to jump in to a dynamic digital ecosystem and partner with each other through their industry’s digital exchange!

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AI Redefining the Banking Experience
AI Redefining the Banking Experience
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AI is powering products, processes, strategies and customer experience in the Banking industry.

The banking industry is all geared up to embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI), to address its business requirements. In general, banks are struggling to implement smart services within their compliance framework, and have an incomplete view of their customer needs from their legacy systems. However, the industry continues to be reliant on legacy systems, largely because of the involvement of too many complex platforms, technologies, and systems which make migration or integration cumbersome.

Meanwhile, modern Digital Banks are aligning their services to customer needs by embedding AI and machine learning within their existing systems. The banking industry’s experimentation with AI is opening new opportunities for improving customer experience (CX).

“We are not too far away from a day where traditional enterprise applications are no longer relevant. The purpose of those traditional systems was to simplify, codify, and automate business and customer processes. But in the mid-term future, we will have a time where the entire process is intelligent – where the system/application creates the best business process for the customer on the fly”, says Tim Sheedy, Principal Advisor, Ecosystm.

Elevating CX and Security

Banks are being transformed through AI adoption, especially in areas such as process automation, cyber security (especially in threat analysis and intelligence, and fraud/transaction security) and better information sharing systems for both their corporate and retail customers.

 Business Solutions being Addressed by AI in Banking

Business Solutions being Addressed by AI in Banking

Customer Experience

Customer Service is one of the core banking applications. Adoption of technologies such as virtual assistants and natural language processing (NLP) techniques is redefining CX in the banking industry.

“With emerging technologies setting a new bar for personalisation and value-add, banks looking to stay ahead of the curve simply cannot afford to ignore them,” says Jannat Maqbool, Principal Advisor, Ecosystm.

Personalised financial advice is another area where banks are taking advantage of AI applications. While it might be a perception that AI will reduce the human touch when it comes to CX, in reality, it provides more accurate and timely assistance. For instance, Bank of America has built an AI virtual assistant, “Erica” which actively assists 25 million clients on its mobile platform. Erica searches for past transactions and informs customers on their credit scores and connects with them to provide analytics and information on their account.

Marketing Automation

As profit margins decrease in the Banking sector, and Fintech technologies become more mainstream, banks need to ramp up their marketing initiatives, to remain competitive. AI is helping banks to optimise their marketing dollars.  Machine learning algorithms can analyse customers’ entire banking journey involving interactions, transactions, location history, and usage patterns to develop insights and make marketing decisions with unprecedented accuracy. Decisions on a range of marketing initiatives across product improvement, new products and services offerings, and targeted marketing keeping in view customers’ financial goals will be automated. This will impact the profit margin as sales cycles shorten, and customers banking journeys become more satisfying.

Process Automation

There are certain functions in banks which require a lot of manual labour such as billing, generation of reports, account opening operations, KYC, etc. AI is transforming the banking industry with data-driven processes and decision making to automate tasks such as billings, credit scoring, compliance reports and so on. This not only reduces the dependence on tedious manual processes but also creates mechanisms to reduce errors. These errors not only make the organisation less efficient but also has financial ramifications.  UBS, as an example, has introduced robots to its workforce, mainly at the back offices, designed to execute more manual and repetitive tasks. This essentially means meeting the right tasks with more speed and accuracy.

Fraud Management

AI improves with data and learns behavioural patterns. Banks are utilising this data or claims management and fraud detection. The AI platform evaluates on certain parameters such as when and how a customer typically accesses services and manage their money – more importantly, how they do not. They are designed to flag transactions with missing information and can alert the bank staff to irregular transactions and suspicious activities to prevent fraud. Increasingly this is evolving a chain of an automated process, without the involvement of banking staff or customer complaints.

Banks have a difficult job delivering better service while remaining compliant, and AI-driven AML and KYC initiatives, helps prevent fraud, and flag suspicious activities such as money laundering.

Market Trends

Current Focus on AI – The banking industry’s focus on customer service and automating manual processes is reflected in the top AI solutions that they are currently adopting. Chatbots and virtual assistants are being improved through natural language generation (NLG) and speech analytics capabilities. Process automation through RPA is being integrated into the organisations’ digital journeys due to its relative ease of deployment and measurable ROI.

Current & Planned Adoption of AI Solutions in Banking

Current & Planned Adoption of AI Solutions in Banking

Future Focus on AI – Banks will continue to focus on CX and strengthening the capabilities of their customer service team through AI. Niche solutions such as facial recognition will also improve their front-end operations, especially in customer identity authentication. Banks will also go beyond customer management to asset management, with AI-enabled IoT systems.

What’s Next?

AI is fast evolving and there are some excellent opportunities for banks to explore on what AI has to offer. Banks are working on feeding data into AI systems with advanced algorithms to better understand their customers and improve their services. Banks should focus on getting quality inputs on inquiries, interactions, transactions or another way that can collect insights.

Consumers are looking for operations and systems that are simple to operate and directed towards them. The greatest potential for AI in banking is to deliver personalised and automated services to consumers in a cost-effective and efficient way.

AI is allowing banks to do quicker operations at much lower cost, what remains to be seen is how banks further leverage AI to extend its products and services offerings.

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Automation Versus AI
Automation Versus AI – Building the Business Case for 70% Accuracy
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I ran several roundtables over the past few weeks speaking to business and technology leaders about their AI investments – and one factor came up many times – that it is hard to build a business case for AI because 70% accuracy was not good enough…

What this means is that companies have thousands of things to automate. Most of those automations in the short-medium term will deliver 100% accuracy using RPA and other simple automation tools. Every time you run that process you know the outcome.

Along Comes AI and Machine Learning

These dumb processes can now learn – they can be smart. But originally they won’t deliver 100% accuracy. They might only deliver 60-70% to start with – climbing perhaps to 90%. The benefits of these smart, learning processes can amaze – costs can fall, processes can improve, outcomes can accelerate. But traditionally we have built technology business cases delivering 100% accuracy and outcomes.

So we need a new way to think about AI and a different language to use about the way it works. The people who sign off on the business cases might not understand AI – they will come to the business case with the same lens they use for all technology investments (and evidently – all business investments). We also need to be better at selling the benefits to our leaders. CEOs and Managing Directors in the roundtables are surprised to hear that AI won’t deliver 100% accuracy – they said unless they know more about the capability, savings and outcomes that the solution might drive, they are unlikely to fund it.

Make Your Dumb Processes Smart

I take this as good news. It means we have moved beyond the hype of AI – the need to “do AI in our business” that drove many of the poorer chatbots and machine learning projects. It means that businesses review AI investments in the same way as any business investment. But it also means we can’t over-promise or under-deliver on AI. Woodside did this with their initial foray into AI, and they are still playing catch up today.

While there are many opportunities to use “dumb automation” and save money, reduce or redeploy headcount – or have employees focus on higher value activities or make real differences to customer experiences – there are as many opportunities to make dumb processes smart. Being able to automatically read PDF or paper-based invoices – processes usually done by humans – could be a huge saving for your business. OK – maybe you can’t redeploy 100% of the staff, but 70% is still a big saving. Being able to take human error out of processes will often help to save money at two steps on the process – automating the human input function up front and also getting rid of the need to fix the mistake.

Start Your AI Journey With The Low Hanging Fruit

Ecosystm’s Global Ongoing AI study has shown that most businesses are focusing their AI investments on internal initiatives – on reducing process time, cost savings and driving productivity – which makes the most sense today. They are the easier business cases to build and the easiest benefits to explain.

 

Perhaps AI is also a chance for businesses to acknowledge that “efficient” does not always mean “good”. Many of the processes we automated or coded to ensure 100% compliance don’t give customers or employees what they are looking for. And maybe making the customer happy 70% of the time is better than not making them happy at all…

If you’d like to dig deeper into Ecosystm’s reports exploring the data from our ongoing AI study – check them out here (you’ll need to register if you have not already – it is free to register, but some content is premium):

4 Vendors Emerge as Leaders: Understanding the AI Vendor landscape

Use Cases Drive AI Software Adoption: Understanding The Industry Landscape

 

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Singapore invest-more in digital-technology
Ecosystm Snapshot: Singapore to invest more in digital technology R&D
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The future of food, medicine, and digital technology has been marked as prime research targets to maintain Singapore’s competitiveness in the coming years. Recently, Singapore Government convened a panel discussion on the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan where Singapore’s Finance Minister Mr Heng Swee Keat delivered an update on Singapore’s science and technology research plan.

Mr. Heng conveyed that more than S$500 million is set-aside to shape up the artificial intelligence systems and to fulfill the nation’s cyber-security requirements. The fund will also improve Singapore’s supercomputing capabilities and the deployment of automation and robotics.

A further $144 million will be allocated towards food research to increase sustainable urban food production, and another $80 million will be contributed to the cell-therapy research in the biopharmaceutical sector.

How Singapore will benefit in terms of technology from this announcement?

The Government has clearly spent a lot of time to determine how to get Singaporean companies to invest in research that can benefit the country, and identifying areas that the industries can benefit in return.

Investment in Digital Technology

The Government believes that it is important to invest in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, Supercomputing and Robotics and hope that there will be more success stories for these industries.  The S$500 million set aside will aim to increase the funding already set back in the RIE 2020 for the Digital Intelligence.

Speaking on the subject, Mervyn Cheah, Principal Advisor ,Ecosystm, says that “The Government aims to entice more Industry to invest in R&D in Singapore. PM Lee has mentioned that the industry today is investing just 1.2 to 1.4 of Singapore’s GDP in R&D in Singapore, and he wants the Industry to do more. It is a bit like playing roulette you place your bets on many numbers and hope that one of them will blossom and give you the returns and success.  It is not possible that all R&D will come to fruition practically.”

Scenario for Businesses

The RIE 2020 is an initiative taken by the Singapore Government to make the nation a hub for R&D. By setting aside funds for both local industries and MNCs the government hopes that the industries will be able to invest and grow.

“There are a number of new start-ups being created as Singaporeans start to recognise that the government is putting in more R&D funding.  At the same time, existing businesses will expand to take advantage of this announcement” says Cheah.

What to Expect – RIE2020

Currently, the local Industries in Singapore do not have a large appetite for investing in R&D in Singapore although there is a 50% spike from 2016 to 2018. The government’s aim is to invest in the Science, Engineering, and Biomedical fields industries, with the intent that they can increase their revenue.

Cheah says “the Government is looking at getting Multi-national Corporations (MNCs) to invest in Singapore for their R&D and believes that the industry can do better.  So, the Government (National Research Foundation under the Prime Minister’s Office) is pushing the Industry to do more, and on their pro-active part, they have announced setting aside another S$700 million R&D funding to A*STAR, to the Singapore Food Agency, and other R&D agencies, with the hope that the Industries will further spend R&D in Singapore.”

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Singapre unveils Autonomous Bus
Ecosystm Snapshot: Singapore unveils Autonomous Bus
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Autonomous vehicles are a natural component of any smart city/smart transportation strategy. City traffic congestion is a well-known problem that can make or break the reputation of a city as being a liveable place. Any major initiative that makes moving the public from one point to another in the most efficient manner is good for everyone.

Singapore has always taken steps to improve public transport and provide a viable alternative to owning a vehicle. These initiatives are renowned worldwide, and Singapore’s public transport and road management held up as best practice globally. To enhance commuters experience Singapore has already introduced smart bus stops a year ago and in the future, we may see a complete ecosystem of smart bus stops.

Following a similar theme, a number of projects have been announced in the last few years to take public transport to the next level. Singapore is also embracing autonomous vehicles, with a number of initiatives launched over the last few years. Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and Volvo Buses in partnership with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) have launched the world’s first full-size autonomous electric bus stretching 12 metres long with a capacity of around 80 passengers. As a part of public trials, the bus is being tested on fixed routes and services will subsequently extend to the public roads.

The buses are equipped with autonomous driving functionality and provide a quiet, emission-free operation and save up to 80% energy compared to an equivalent sized diesel bus. The bus has advanced features such as light detection and ranging sensors (LIDARS), 3D stereo-vision cameras, and an advanced GPS system that uses real-time kinematics which are connected to an inertial management unit (IMU) to measure the lateral and angular and help in navigation over varied terrains.

Real-world concerns for autonomous buses

The bus has undergone preliminary rounds of rigorous testing at the Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous vehicles at NTU (CETRAN). Confirming maximum safety and reliability, the AI system in the bus is protected with industry-leading cybersecurity measures. Speaking on the subject, Ecosystm’s Executive Analyst, Vernon Turner says that “While safety will always be the leading concern, software and hardware security and reliability will be the underpinning forces that make passengers comfortable with autonomous vehicles. The autonomous vehicle’s ecosystem is complex because the reliability of the vehicle is as much an IT and telecom function as it is an industrial manufacturing process.”What

What do Autonomous buses mean for the industry and how will it benefit the industry?

In most cities, public transportation is conducted in ‘restricted’ lanes (especially for buses), and therefore the routes are often consistent, and the operating environments can be continually monitored and matched for exceptions. The legislation for autonomous vehicles has to be carefully crafted to ensure the highest level of public safety while not stifling innovation.

“The digital impact of autonomous buses opens up a host of new services both for the transportation companies as well as the passengers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see transportation companies being sold public transportation vehicles such as buses as ‘buses as a service’ whereby the vehicles are managed in a 100% OPEX manner and have no CAPEX value! There will be a rich source of operational data from IoT-based sensors that the suppliers and the transportation companies will agree to pay for multiple usage metrics,” Says Turner. “Innovation will also appear in the transportation workflow – thus creating investment in real-time mapping, high-speed telecom networks, and in the case of an ‘EV’ or electric bus, the charging/recharging energy network.  As the IT infrastructure is implemented, I would anticipate efficiencies in bus usage would increase with better route management. Passengers, buses and the routes become integrated into a better passenger and city life experience.”

To that end, the industry is excited to use public transportation for their autonomous vehicle programs.

Environmental Impact of autonomous buses

The government of various nations is spending enormous amounts on reducing emission and buses are inherently inefficient when it comes to diesel consumption, only getting between 1 to 4 kilometres/litre. “Switching them to electric vehicles while at the same time running them as autonomous vehicles in a very efficient manner could have a marked impact on the environment,” says Turner. “While the heavy workload for buses might quickly drain any EV batteries, having them work in a fully autonomous, dedicated bus lane should mitigate that energy cost. This could make it a feasible alternative to combustion engine vehicles while at the same time being highly friendly to the environment.”

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RPA in Hospitality: Opportunities and Pitfalls
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Robotic process automation (RPA) is an emerging application of software embedded with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to capture, interpret and automate existing high-volume and repetitive tasks which were done manually previously.  RPA enables organizations to effectively automate labor-intensive tasks, streamline processes, increase employee productivity, and ultimately deliver satisfying customer experiences.

The global Ecosystm AI study found the top business solutions that the hospitality industry has identified to be addressed by AI adoption.

Digital transformation is disrupting the hospitality industry in many ways. The way guests are consuming hospitality services is changing dramatically as the hotel industry transforms its offerings, products, services, and infrastructure to meet the needs of the digital age.  The hospitality industry is a high-volume transaction-based environment, consisting of data management, bookings, processes, and systems. RPA is becoming a prime technology that can disrupt hospitality management and operations.  For example, hotel/restaurant/leisure bookings, front desk cashiering, financial reconciliation, loyalty processes, and employee rosters may be disrupted through RPA. Chatbot services will integrate with bookings and purchasing, forming a new notification channel for guests. Loyalty and streamlined rewards redemption will be another key focus. Hotels will actively partner with other providers as they expand their role in the travel experience, leading to loyalty networks among hotels, airlines, restaurants, and retailers. The potential of RPA for hoteliers to innovate and deliver improved services while improving the efficiency of existing services to sustain and grow their business is presented below.

Bookings. RPA holds tremendous potential in the areas of booking and purchasing.  It lowers the cost of service via automation, by virtualising the entire booking process from start to finish with little or no manual intervention.  RPA also permanently reduces the cost of itinerary and transaction processing, delivering significant savings for travel companies. With RPA, hoteliers can spend less time on data-processing and more time on providing superior guest services.

Front Desk cashiering. Front office automation can completely transform interaction and engagement between guests and hotels. RPA will automate front desk time-consuming, repetitive, and rules-based processes, such as processing orders, tracking payments, guest’s interactions, digitizing paperwork, and managing data. Front-office automation will derive a single view of the guests and their transaction history and will ensure that guest’s communications are seamless regardless of the channel. RPA will greatly assist with tasks that are repetitive, predictable, rule-based, and structured, freeing human resources, making them more productive and improving the guest experience.

Financial reconciliation. Financial reporting is an important activity for every organization. However, composing and distributing these reports is labor-intensive and highly risky in case of failure or errors. Thus, RPA or bot can be used to generate finance, HR, or tax reports, in which the bot can gather information from multiple legacy systems, including ERP, data warehouse. This aggregated data is then can be reconciled based on pre-defined reporting templates, with workflow management enabling hassle-free process, error-free compliance which can be supported by transparent audit trails. The RPA systems are available 24/7, which can significantly reduce the overall time for reporting.

Loyalty programs. Loyalty programs are a key aspect of any business striving to achieve and maintain a strong relationship with their customers. However, existing loyalty programs have not delivered their fullest potential owing to inherent issues such as disparate data sources, cumbersome processes, complicated points-to-rewards conversions, limited redemption options, security threats, and overdrawn settlement processes. Existing loyalty programs and platforms can greatly benefit from a secure and highly automated platform that targets the above-mentioned customer pain points. RPA can be embedded into an existing loyalty program or over-arch multiple systems to automate a process or sequence of processes. It can also be used to automate existing standard loyalty program practices such as recording of earned/redeemed/conversion of loyalty points, as well as managing customer and product details.

Recommendations. Intelligent automation which is a collaboration between RPA and AI can be applied to approach tasks that require complex decision-making and analysis, such as natural language processing (NLP), recommendation services and online customer support. This means that intelligent automation will be able to independently predict new holiday destinations, make restaurant recommendations or recommend a spa service for a guest, depending on real-time analysis and determination of the guest profile based on past consumption patterns.

Chatbot services. RPA chatbots will be able to form a new reservation and notification channel for guests. Modeled on text conversations with call centre agents and website navigation paths, booking bots may be able to not only fulfill reservations but also upsell rooms and promotions in line with guest’s preferences.

Compliance management. RPA can automate repetitive compliance tasks and reduce the risk of hotels being exposed to non-compliance measures by eliminating errors and complying with the prescribed workflows. Personal information of guests can be monitored regularly for possible data leakage and can be easily audited.

In order to derive the most benefit from RPA, hoteliers should be aware of the potential pitfalls from the initial process. As mentioned by Bernard Marr, a strategic performance consultant, in his article ‘Are These The 7 Real Reasons Why Tech Projects Fail’,  “more than half of the technological failures are in fact due to poor management, and only 3% are caused by technical problems.” Difficulties may also arise from not choosing the right processes to automate. The following are potential pitfalls that hoteliers should avoid while embarking on RPA:

  1. Awareness, ownership, and knowledge. RPA implementation demands ownership at all levels. At the top level, the Project Sponsor needs to understand how to prioritize the processes for deployment by identifying the benefits that the technology offers. It is thus important to understand the strengths and limitations of RPA in order to align the initiative to the organization’s strategy with it and monitor the key performance indicators (KPIs) for success.
  2. Not prioritising the right processes to automate. This refers to picking the process that is most appropriate for an effective start of using automation in the business. Tasks to be automated should be thoroughly evaluated based on features, process complexity and its business impact. Hoteliers may be tempted to optimize existing manual processes first before RPA. While this may seem logical, doing so will result in missed opportunities to uncover true process inefficiencies that will be flagged through the RPA process.
  3. Implementing RPA In-house. With a high level of technicality expected from an RPA implementation, it is not advisable to attempt such an implementation using in-house resources. While the cost savings might look attractive in the beginning, a less-than-successful RPA implementation will cost more to rectify post-live than a well-thought-out plan which includes external expert resources to advise and lead the implementation. In-house specialists can also be trained during the process so critical domain knowledge can be transferred for post-implementation support.
  4. Well-planned RPA maintenance & support regime. RPA software requires ongoing maintenance so that it continues to run smoothly. While RPA processes do not deviate from their configured algorithms, interfaces, data formats and most important company processes do change. A proper maintenance and support regime is needed to ensure RPA software continues to function optimally.
  5. Ensure a close relationship to IT. A strong relationship to IT is key in RPA. Any change to the application carries a risk of impacting RPA behaviour. To avoid such an incident, it is important to have open communication with the application administrators.

RPA stands to overwhelm the IT world. As its adoption becomes more widespread, it is imperative for operators and technologists who are accountable for its execution to understand the potential pitfalls prior to deployment. This will ensure successful adoption and make for a smoother transition to operationalization across the business organization.

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AT&T-Joins-Global-Telco-Security-Alliance
Ecosystm Snapshot: AT&T Joins Global Telco Security Alliance
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AT&T became the first North American operator to join the ranks of the Global Telco Security Alliance formed by Singtel, Etisalat, Softbank, and Telefónica. The alliance which was formed last year in April 2018 in a pact to amalgamate the capabilities of telecommunications operators on security aspects and fight collectively against cyber attacks.

AT&T joined as an equal member with other founding members of the group. Over the past few years, AT&T has been building its cybersecurity capabilities and  has recently acquired AlienVault– a commercial and open source developer – to offer a platform that integrates and automates point security products to manage cyber attacks. AlienVault has been rebranded as AT&T Cybersecurity, and includes consulting and managed security services. Similarly, at the end of 2018, Singtel revealed the brand ‘Trustwave’ that combines the capabilities of partners such as Optus and NCS, to provide a comprehensive security suite and services to help organisations fight cybercrime.

With the rising risks of cyber-attacks, these initiatives are providing a synergistic front and helping organisations to analyse and act faster against cyber threats. The alliance plans to expand its global footprint and span across APAC, Europe, MEA and America.

Speaking about the alliance, Alex Woerndle, Principal Analyst Cybersecurity, Ecosystm says that, “Similar collaborations exists within other industries already – most commonly they use regular information-sharing sessions with the collective security teams to discuss what each is experiencing, what strategies and tactics have worked or failed, and provide details on the type and nature of attacks. The telcos – at a minimum – should be collaborating at that level. But given the global nature of this alliance, they will need to consider how they can aggregate threat information and share it in a more agile way on a day to day, hour to hour and minute to minute basis.”

The alliance accounts for a significant percentage of the overall traffic and is a tangible example of companies taking steps to fight cyber attacks. “As the threat landscape continues to expand there is an opportunity to broaden the intelligence – sharing what they collectively gather and analyse, to strengthen the defences of the broader market not just in their local geographies,  and to impact globally”, says Woerndle. “Think of the immense opportunities to share intelligence gathered collectively by all the major telcos, to proactively prevent attacks on their clients – from other enterprises down to small/medium businesses and consumers.  Law enforcement could benefit from the global telco collaboration, also”

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Mixed Reality-Cover
Forget AR and VR, it’s a Game of Mixed Reality Now
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We’ve been hearing about Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for a  while now. The future of the virtual world is being built today and as AR/ VR become more mainstream and prices decrease, there’s a new technology trying to fit in somewhere, to perform its magic  – Mixed Reality.

What is  Mixed Reality, however? Is it just another marketing jargon for the same technology wrapped in new covers?

Before diving deep into mixed reality , let us revisit the fundamentals of the  virtual world technologies.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality replaces your world with a digital world and has been in the market from some time. VR is achieved through the use of a virtual headset which in combination with an image/video (either through phone or direct source connection) produces multi-projected environments with lenses to generate a virtual environment. It provides real-world experience and some of the use cases include driving and flight simulators, virtual tours, 360° videos, and in healthcare, training and more.  There are a variety of VR devices available today from known manufacturers such as Facebook ‘s Oculus, Samsung Gear, Google Cardboard, Sony’s PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and others, offering different features, and addressing  different requirements and comfort.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality is a direct or indirect view of physical world elements augmented through the digital environment. Basically, AR supplements the real world with digital objects of any sort. It is already being used in the Aviation industry, where data is displayed within the pilots’ helmet view as they fly.

An example of AR is Ikea’s mobile app developed specifically to showcase its furniture catalogue – A piece of furniture such as a dining table or a television cabinet can be virtually displayed as a digital image overlaid on top of the real image of your home space. This lets you easily judge the appearance or gauge how it will fit in your home space.

Some of the more well-know AR devices include Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLens, and Sony Leap. AR is also used in mobile gaming applications such as Pokemon GO, where virtual creatures are placed into the real world.

Where does Mixed Reality fit?

As an independent notion, Mixed Reality combines the best of both worlds and covers all the possible disparities of the physical and the simulated worlds.

Also known as hybrid reality, Mixed Reality covers the spectrum where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Somewhere, between AR and VR, there is an overlap between the physical and the virtual worlds – that is where Mixed Reality comes in.

Both AR and VR require users to step out of their own reality – or to use another device (typically a smartphone) to access digital or “virtual” content. The experience is either all-encompassing (with VR – where the content overrides your current reality), or underwhelming (with AR – where the content is limited, does not understand your current reality and/or is at arm’s length on a relatively small screen).

AR-VR-MR

Mixed Reality is designed to add digital assets to your current environment. It adds to the current environment in a natural way that gives the user benefits that non-users would not have.

For businesses, Mixed Reality can offer the most benefit and potentially offer limitless opportunities. Defining the polar ends of AR and VR spectrum Microsoft introduced Hololens in late 2016 as a groundbreaking device and showcased capabilities blending the real and virtual world. Despite being a promising product, there have been hiccups such as a limited field of view (FOV) restricted to only 30°, scaling and sizing holograms and others.

Learning from the failures, Microsoft recently released a new version of its Mixed Reality device – the Hololens2. Microsoft’s Hololens2 takes Mixed Reality beyond niche use cases using more natural gestures, a larger FOV and a multi-user environment – powered by Azure  Mixed Reality services.

Mixed Reality in the Enterprise

The use cases of Mixed Reality are many and as the continuum builds, the testing, adoption and deployment cases will become wider. Microsoft’s device is not aimed  for the consumer market and is primarily targeted towards business use cases.

Tim Sheedy, Principal Advisor, Ecosystm, believes, “Most of the short and medium-term use cases are really suited to businesses. There are definitely some longer-term opportunities for consumers, but that will require substantial miniaturisation of the hardware and change of form factor. Current MR systems won’t become mainstream devices in the consumer market.”

With Mixed Reality in the play, organisations will be able to explore newer ways of doing things:

Training. Training is a perfect use case. If you can imagine taking a typical guided software where tips pop up on a screen (such as “click this button to personalise your experience, click here to see current leads, click here to add an opportunity) and move this training to the real world (this lever shuts down the machine, this valve reduces pressure etc) then you can get an idea of what is possible.

Engineering. This applies to any job that requires engineers or repairers to work on equipment, where they can be guided through a fix. Any sensor that sends information back to a computer can now be visualised – a mechanic may look at a car and see green for all the components operating within standard range and red for those that need attention or repair.

Construction. A construction worker or site manager can see the entire building or components of the building in advance and make plans for the location of materials, staff, safety etc.

Graphics Designing. A designer can picture how a new product might look in an environment and can design the product with respect to the actual surroundings.

Healthcare. A surgeon could have a CT or MRI scan overlaid onto the patient as they operate to ensure they are targeting the right area.

Anywhere that digital assets or information can assist a worker or drive a more effective, faster or safer outcome are all potential use cases for Mixed Reality services.

A Look at the Field

The theory behind Mixed Reality is that it adds to the user experience in a natural way. Organisations are exploring opportunities to leverage these technologies in the real world. Despite numerous use cases and de facto descriptors, the technology cannot be manifested until it comes to real use.

“Mixed Reality will be a success when it is seamless to use for the first line workers – when it doesn’t feel like a computer you wear on your head!” says Sheedy. “You should be able to interact with these assets in a standard way – and this is where Hololens2 is a big step above the first iteration – as it will allow more natural interactions with the digital objects – you push something or turn something and it moves, versus the “finger click” approach of the first version.”

Imagine your first day at work at a new employer, and instead of a person showing up to give you the tour, you put on a Mixed Reality device (standard or industrialised for those in mining, construction etc) and you are given a tour with virtual overlay and audio guidance.

Sheedy believes that “Mixed Reality may never be a mainstream technology – well not in our generation at least. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a commercial success. If it is easy to deploy, manage, use, and code for and makes financial sense for businesses to deploy them then these devices will be used. The previous Hololens had commercial users – but Hololens2 should see more success as it is a better solution that can help businesses overcome even more challenges.”

The longer-term success of Mixed Reality will be how well it works with existing software platforms out-of-the-box. Support by SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, IBM and others will help to drive adoption.

How is it going to evolve in the future?

At present, the mobile device is the interface of choice for consumers and workers. But voice is quickly taking off (e.g. Google Home ). Mixed Reality adds an extra impetus to devices that are looking to supplant the smartphone as the interface to information, entertainment and data.

The longer-term future will likely see the emergence of standards that deliver the right information at the right time on the device of choice – whether that device be one with a screen, a microphone and a speaker (smart speaker like the Amazon Alexa), a screen and a speaker (such as a Hololens device), a smartwatch or another form factor.

“Mixed Reality devices will get smaller, smarter, faster, have better resolution, be more integrated (with cloud services and software platforms) and more integrated with another non-screen interface” says Sheedy.

“Access to the right information at the right time on the best device that drives the right outcomes will be the ultimate goal – and Mixed Reality will be one of the form factors that help consumers and businesses achieve that goal.”

It’s still too early to tell the direction this technology will take but the promises surely appear to be overwhelming. What do you think will be the future of Mixed Reality – is it another gimmick or will it really live up to its promise?

Let us know in your comments below.

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