Conversations-Cloud,-Innovation-and-Security
Conversations: Cloud, Innovation and Security

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In June 2019, Ecosystm conducted Roundtables in Sydney and Melbourne supported by our partner Delphix. IT and business executives from data-intensive industries in Australia came together to discuss how to overcome data-driven constraints and enable innovation by effectively managing and distributing data in a  secure environment within organisations. These are the salient points that emerged from the sessions.

In the course of my facilitation, I realised that the key focus of the discussions was on how organisations today handle their biggest asset – data – and manage all the moving parts in large and diverse settings and in very traditional enterprises that are transitioning into data-driven “New Age” businesses.

The Impossible Tech Triangle

Data has never been so prolific or strategic as it is today. Multiple sources of data generation and technologically savvy customers have seen a data explosion. Simultaneously, personalised services and data insights have seen a drive toward using the data for increased intelligence in most industries. The biggest risk organisations face and what CSOs and business leaders spend sleepless nights on, is significant disruption due to compromise. Moreover, the complexity of the technology platforms means that no organisation is 100% certain that they have it right and that they are managing the risk effectively.

Does this give rise to a similar situation as in Marketing and Advertising where the triangle of price, quality and speed appear to be unattainable by many organisations?

 Impossible Tech Triangle - Ecosystm

 

 

Key takeaways from the sessions

 

#1 Drivers & Challenges of Cloud adoption

The fact that discussions around agility and innovation can happen with the intensity it does today, is because organisations have embraced Cloud infrastructure and application development platforms and SaaS solutions.Every organisation’s Cloud journey is unique, driven by its discrete set of requirements. Organisations choosing cloud may not have the resources to build in-house systems – or may choose to migrate to the cloud for various reasons such as cost, productivity, cross-border collaboration or for compliance.

When embarking on a Cloud journey it is important to have a clear roadmap that involves instilling a Cloud-First culture and training the IT organisation in the right skills for the environment. Concerns around costs, security, and data ownership are still synonymous with Cloud, therefore, organisations can distill the workload from a cost angle before jumping on Cloud. It is important for organisations to appreciate when a Cloud option will not work out from a cost angle and to have the right cost considerations in place, because organisations that do a straight resource swapover on Cloud are likely to end up paying more.

Data ownership and data residency can also be challenging, especially from a compliance standpoint. For some, the biggest challenge is to know the status of their data residency. The challenges are not just around legacy systems but also in terms of defining a data strategy that can deliver the desired outcomes and managing risk effectively without ruining the opportunities and rewards that data utilisation can bring. Cloud transformation projects bring in data from multiple and disparate sources. A clear data strategy should manage the data through its entire lifecycle and consider aspects such as how the data is captured, stored, shared, and governed.

 

#2 Perception on Public Cloud Security

While security remains a key concern when it comes to Cloud adoption, Cloud is often regarded as a more secure option than on-premise. Cloud providers have dedicated security focus, constantly upgrade their security capabilities in response to newer threats and evolve their partner ecosystem. There is also better traceability with Cloud as every virtual activity can be tracked, monitored, and is loggable.

However, the Cloud is as secure as an organisation makes it. The Cloud infrastructure may be secure, but the responsibility of securing applications lies with the organisation. The perception that there is no need to supplement public Cloud security features can have disastrous outcomes. It is important to supplement the Cloud provider’s security with event-driven security measures within an organisation’s applications and cloud infrastructure. As developers increasingly leverage APIs, this need to focus on security, along with functionality and agility should be emphasised on. Organisations should be aware that security is a shared responsibility between the Cloud provider and the organisation.

 

#3 Viewing Security as a Business Risk – not IT Risk

The Executive Management and the Board may be involved in the Security strategy and GRC policies of an organisation. But a consistent challenge Security teams face is convincing the Board and Senior Management on the need for ongoing focus and investments on cybersecurity measures. Often, these investments are isolated from the organisation’s KPIs and are harder to quantify. But Security breaches do have financial and reputational impact on organisations. Mature organisations are beginning to view Security as a business risk requirement and not a matter of IT risk alone. One of the reasons why Senior Management and Boards do not understand the full potential of data breaches is because CISOs do not translate the implications in business terms. It is their responsibility to find ways to procure senior management buy-in, so that Security becomes part of the Strategy and the costs associated gets written into the cost of doing business.

Training sessions that educate the stakeholders on the basics of the risks associated with using knowledge systems can help. Simulation of actual cybersecurity events and scenario testing can bring home the operational issues around recovery, assessment and containment and it is important to involve senior stakeholders in these exercises. However, eventually the role of the CSO will evolve. It will become a business role and traverse Security across the entire organisation – physical as well as cybersecurity. This is when organisations will truly recognise investment in Security as a business requirement.

 

#4 Moving away from Compliance-driven Security Practices

Several organisations look at Security as part of their compliance exercise, and compliance is built into their organisational risk management programmes. Often,  security practices are portrayed as a product differentiator and used as a marketing  tool. An organisation’s Security strategy should be more robust than that and should not only be focused on ticking the right compliance boxes.

A focus on compliance often means that Security teams continually create policies and call out non-compliance rather than proactively contribute to a secure environment. Applications teams do not always have the right skills to manage Security. The focus of the Security team should not be on telling Applications teams  what they are doing wrong and writing copious policies, procedures and standards, expecting others to execute on the recommendations. There should be a focus on automated policy-driven remediation that does not restrict the Applications team per se but focuses on unsafe practices, when they are detected. Their role is to work on the implementation and set up Security practices to help the Applications team do what they do best.

 

#5 Formulating the Right Incident Response Policy

In the Ecosystm Cybersecurity study, 73% of global organisations think that a data breach is inevitable – so organisations largely believe that “it is not about if, but when”. About 50% of global organisations have a cyber insurance policy or are evaluating one. This trend will only rise. Policy-driven incident response measures are an absolute requirement in all enterprises today. However, to a large extent even their incident response policies are compliance driven. 65% of the organisations appear to be satisfied with their current breach handling processes. It is important to keep evolving the process in the face of new threats.

Organisations should also be aware of the need for people management during an incident. Policies might be clear and adhered to, but it is substantially harder to train the stakeholders involved on how they will handle the breach emotionally. It extends to how an organisation manages their welfare both during an incident and long after the incident response has been closed off.

 

Over the two sessions, we explored how to achieve the ‘unattainable triangle’ of Cloud, Agility and Security.  What I found interesting – yet unsurprising – is that discussions were heavily focussed on the role of Security. On the one hand, there is the challenge of the current threat landscape. On the other hand, Security teams are required to deliver a Cloud and an agile development strategy in tandem. This disconnect ultimately highlights the need for Security and data management to be embedded and managed from the very start, and not as an afterthought.

Here are some of the moments from the session –

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What technologies are enabling digital transformation?

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In this rapidly evolving world, the adoption of Digital technology is transforming business and organisations through various means. People and organisations are embracing digital technology to build new products and services based on innovative business models and changing nearly every aspect of their business. This shift in technology adoption to support the business is known as Digital Transformation (DX).

 

Technologies Driving DX

There are several technologies driving the DX revolution. The foremost amongst them is the Internet, which has enhanced communication, connectivity and information sharing capabilities. The ubiquitous adoption of internet by organisations has also created technologies such as Cloud and Internet of Things (IOT), unlocking more ways to deliver and distribute software and services. It has been only a few decades since the Internet expanded from a limited low-bandwidth network with a few computers to the global matrix of high-speed connections that we have today. These technologies are fundamentally changing how businesses operate and deliver value to customers.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is another technology driving DX. AI is creating opportunities in areas such as intelligent systems, speech recognition, machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA). AI tools and applications require a lot of data to train the algorithms which is leading to the creation of more data collection points by the organisations. The creation and consumption of piles of data, often called ‘Big Data’, is leading businesses to generate better insights, better decisions and support organisational strategy derived by combining this data with AI.

Another area making its way into digital transformation is the adoption of mobile technology, allowing us to be geographically independent. The most common application of mobility is smart phones which has transformed us in many ways. Mobility has brought new applications and services for businesses, driving a whole range of initiatives – often referred to as Workplace Innovation – to improve employee productivity and engagement. Organisations have had to adopt several Mobility solutions, such as Mobile Device Management (MDM), Mobile App Management (MAM) and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) – and the trend is to have these solutions consolidated under one Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) solution. The overriding need is offering flexibility and connectivity to the business world for remote workers.

 

At the enterprise level, corporate data and corporate applications have also become untethered from the physical world. Large scale corporate wide applications (Enterprise Applications/Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)), services and even infrastructure services are now delivered on the Internet. And the digital world is meeting the physical world – drones are being used for remote applications and autonomous vehicles are becoming a reality. Even governments of several nations are delivering their services digitally and providing access of the government data to businesses to help them develop new information-based services.

 

These changes are revolutionising businesses and the way we work. Innovative technologies mean fresh opportunities, better business capabilities, lower costs, reduced time and improved customer experience, creating a win-win situation. But sustaining business integrity, data safety and protection of cyber assets is of prime importance and that is where Cybersecurity comes in play.

The global Ecosystm Cybersecurity study finds that DX is the key driver for investments in Cybersecurity solutions.

Digital Transformation Drivers

Cybersecurity encompasses a range of technologies designed to protect endpoints and networks from unwelcome intrusions and to ensure continued reliability. Cyber-attacks have become a major issue and not taking care of security can have large and long-lasting repercussions. A Cybersecurity strategy is becoming a necessity for digital business to protect the infrastructure and data assets.

 

In these early years of the 21st century we have witnessed a lot of innovations that have transformed how we work and do business. While DX allows process automation, improves accuracy and enhanced applications, there are those that are still sceptical and are concerned about the potential negative disruption to the traditional ways of doing things. The benefits that we are deriving from DX – and those that we will continue to derive – will outweigh the scepticism and positively impact businesses and society, on multiple levels. DX is sweeping the world and the future is here, now.

 

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Importance of a Data-Driven CX for a Personalised Experience

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As companies grapple with finding the right balance between managing multiple touchpoints and driving great customer experience (CX), the importance of getting the flow consistent – right communication to the client without spending too much time on re-directing calls or asking questions about a previous call or experience via a touchpoint – is becoming critical. The desire to impress a customer the first time they come into contact with a touchpoint is an area companies are looking to invest in. Using data as a means to understand customer sentiment before the call comes in will give the agent information to prepare them for making appropriate decisions during and after the call.

Case Study – Carsales

I was recently invited to an AWS Connect, Zendesk and Voice Foundry event in Sydney and it was great to hear from Carsales about how they re-invented CX. Prior to making the leap to deploying the solution from AWS Connect and Zendesk, they had been running their contact centre for years using a traditional contact centre platform. Some of the issues they  have faced over the years included the following:

  • Difficult and costly to customise
  • Expensive support costs
  • Expensive and difficult integrations
  • Difficult to extract reporting
  • Downtime for upgrades
  • Difficult to use

These issues are common challenges posed by traditional contact centre platforms. High costs of maintenance and expensive integration costs are some of the challenges I hear of when speaking to end-users. The contact centre and CX industry are at an inflection point where organisations are evaluating how best to drive great CX and at the same time considering how to work with vendors that can help drive innovation in CX. Carsales eventually shortlisted 4 players before making the decision on which cloud provider to work with. They ended up working with Zendesk and AWS Connect.

Carsales recognised the need for a CX solution that could use the data they already have on their customers in Zendesk and Salesforce CRM systems to create a unique experience for each interaction. It was important for them to have a solution that would simplify data warehousing and analytics to make it easier to get a full view of the customer. By integrating the CRM application to AWS Connect as the CX orchestration engine. to bring the contact centre and CRM applications together helped Carsales deliver a personalised CX for their customers.

WHY AWS Connect?

These have come off the points mentioned by Carsales as to why they selected AWS Connect:

  • Cloud-Based (accessible anywhere)
  • No downtime for upgrades
  • Access to Data (Lambda and APIs) via ZenDesk and Salesforce
  • Easy UI
  • Support from implementation partner Voice Foundry
  • Affordable solution
  • Access to great technology such as Speech to Text (Polly), Speech Recognition (Lex) and Analytics (Transcribe and Comprehend)
  • Scalable and customisable call flows

In the global Ecosystm Cloud study, as depicted by the chart below, about 53% of organisations state that increased work processes and efficiency are a key benefit of the cloud.  Nearly half the organisations rate flexibility and scalability and improved service levels and agility as the main benefits of a cloud deployment.

Implementation Learnings

What Carsales found about the AWS Connect solution, is how changes can be made easily. Most configurations can be made by the contact centre staff and there is no need to go to IT.  Their primary aim was to deliver a personalised CX by accessing data from other internal systems (CRM, proprietary databases, etc) and the solution addressed this need.

The advice that Carsales gives to others implementing a Cloud Contact Centre are:

  1. Ensure that you have invested in the network to support voice over IP.
  2. Make sure that your headsets are compatible to ensure full functionality.
  3. Engage with a partner rather than implementing the platform on your own. Although you can implement AWS Connect solution on your own, it can be difficult. Voice Foundry was a great implementation partner.

The Importance of Data-Driven CX

The market is witnessing a shift where organisations are looking for new and more agile platforms for CX. The challenges, as highlighted by Carsales – such as existing solutions being difficult and costly to customise – are some of the common challenges we are hearing from organisations about the limitations of traditional telephony and contact centre solutions. Whilst the traditional vendors still have a majority share of the market, that is changing. Some of the new cloud contact centre vendors are offering new and dynamic ways of driving a better experience for the users of the technology – from agents to those that manage the contact centre solution. The ability to add agents when needed has become easier (without intervention from IT) and cloud provides better security due to the multiple back-ups and redundancies it offers. The ability to reduce maintenance and customise applications with new agile methodologies and APIs are driving a new era in the contact centre market. The single most important area is deep analytics. The ability to have deep analytics to understand the customer better as a starting point before a call, during a call and after the call is critical. Artificial intelligence can be used to better understand customer sentiment and detect trends in customer data.

The shift from traditional contact centres to cloud contact centres is happening and no longer just with mid-market companies. Large organisations are making the shift to the cloud as the benefits are apparent. Implementing a data-driven culture is key to driving a personalised CX. The tight integration between CRM databases and the applications in the contact centre is becoming more important than ever.

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Why are we still at a loss with IoT?

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For years, I have been writing about the promise and perils of the Internet of Things (IoT). In many of my articles, I described how the IoT could help transform society and kickstart the next industrial revolution. However, still many people and enterprises are not deploying IoT. We still cannot define in a unique and clear way what IoT is,  much less explain how it will change our lives, without using the example of the smart refrigerator!

Why are we still at a loss with IoT?  Let´s explore.

Lost in IoT Connectivity

With so many IoT connectivity options in the market, choosing the right one for your project can be complicated. It is a scary thought that billions of devices could be connected in a few years to decentralised IoT networks, with no interconnectivity between them, unless we use millions of edge nodes that transfer messages between devices connected in multiple networks. If it is already difficult to justify the ROI of a use case using a single type of connectivity – it is almost impossible to justify that these devices will need to communicate with other devices on different IoT subnets.

It seems that it is easy to get lost in so much connectivity technology. Isn’t that true?

Lost among hundreds of IoT Platforms

At least we can already intuit some of the platforms that will survive among the 700+ that some analysts have identified. I have only been able to analyse about 100 of them in some depth.  Surely my methodology of Superheroes and Supervillains will advance the end of most of them.

It is no longer just one IoT Platform. Although they want to make it easy for us, companies like AWS, Microsoft or Google add concepts such as Serverless, Data Lakes, AI, Edge Computing, DLT and all the artillery of Cloud services to the core features of the IoT platform. It is easy to get lost in the architecture.

Data from the global Ecosystm IoT Study shows this confusion in selecting the right platform for future adopters of IoT. Same organisations indicate that they will use or at least evaluate several platforms.

Initiatives such as  Verizon’s focus on connectivity and systems integrators abandoning their in-house developments to embrace leading vendors’ offerings, will reduce some of the confusion around IoT platforms.

Lost between the Edge and the Cloud

In Do not let the fog hide the clouds in the Internet of Things, I had warned about the degree of complexity that Fog /Edge Computing will add to the already complex IoT solutions.  Now nothing seems to be of great value unless Edge Computing is included.

The Babel tower of alliance and consortia is consolidating, but people still get lost in the acronyms. News such as the merging of the  Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and the OpenFog Consortium (OpenFog) to combine the two largest and most influential international consortia in Industrial IoT, fog and edge computing, has been hailed by many.  The Open Group Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) is defining the next generation edge computing standards for industrial operators.

And again, the question arises, do all organisations need Edge to start an Industrial IoT project?

Lost in Proofs of Concept

Businesses are estimated to be spending USD 426 Billion worldwide on IoT hardware and software in 2019 alone. Yet, three out of every four IoT implementations are reported to be failing.

Microsoft launched a new research report – IoT Signals – intended to quantify enterprise IoT adoption around the world. The survey of over 3,000 IT team leaders and executives provides a detailed look at the burgeoning multi-billion-dollar segment’s greatest challenges and benefits, as well as related trends. Perhaps it is not surprising that 30% of respondents say their IoT projects failed in the proof-of-concept (PoC) stage, often because the implementation became too expensive or the bottom-line benefits were unclear.

There are technical reasons – for example the use of Rasberry Pi or Arduino boards in the PoC and then later realising that more expensive hardware is needed for the actual project. There are economic reasons when organisations try to escalate their PoC to real implementations and then the ROI does not look as good as in the pilot.

There are organisational reasons when leaders are failing to go all in. If you cannot get the CEO on board, then the probability that your IoT project will end at the PoC stage is almost 100%.

If you are lost in the PoC, these tips can help you implementing IIOT.

  1. Solve a problem worth solving
  2. Keep it quick and simple
  3. Manage the human factor

Lost in selecting the right IoT Ecosystem

Today no significant ecosystem or network of collaborators has emerged in the IoT arena in spite of early and very interesting efforts being made by several players. Since I wrote The value of partnership in Industrial Internet of Things, I have heard, read and repeated hundreds of times how important it is to belong to an IoT ecosystem and how difficult it is to choose the one that suits you best.

Those who have read my articles know that there is no company in the world, no matter how great it is, that can do everything in IoT. Creating an IoT ecosystem either horizontal (technology) or vertical (industry) requires a lot of talent managers able to maintain win-win transactions over time. And according to the results, it appears to me that it is becoming very complicated.

 Remember, you are not the only at a loss with IoT

When it comes to achieving an ROI from IoT, businesses really need to rethink how they are deploying it and ensure that they can manage their sensors remotely, secure their assets, use the sensors and devices data to make better real-time decisions and monetise it. However, for that to happen and to prevent the IoT projects from failing, businesses need independent and expert advice at several levels to find the right people to lead the project and the right technology and partners to make implementations successful.

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Ecosystm Snapshot Apple betting big on Intel modem business
Ecosystm Snapshot: Apple betting big on Intel modem business

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Apple and Intel have signed an agreement where Apple will acquire Intel’s smartphone modem business for a deal valued at $1 billion. Apple will gain Intel’s Intellectual Property, equipment, leases, and approximately 2200 Intel employees will join Apple.

The deal is Apple’s second-largest ever after its $3.2bn purchase of Beats Electronics in 2014. The deal is expected to close at the end of the year and Intel will continue to develop modems for non-smartphone applications such as industrial equipment, autonomous vehicles and personal computers.

 

What Apple has really acquired from Intel?

Beyond getting 2,200 employees from Intel’s modem group along with the accompanying 17,000 patents, Apple now has the intellectual property to develop a modem that can be integrated with Apple (system-on-a-chip) or SOC.

Commenting on Apple’s acquisition of Intel modem business, Ecosystm Executive Analyst, Vernon Turner said  “given its performance-driven and highly vertically integrated product line, Apple had its own ambitions to build its own modem. However, despite being capable of building chips, Apple lacked the knowledge to build a modem. To solve that issue, it would always have had to license patents from a 3rd party, unless they buy the company that has the patents instead.”

 

Aligning with the fifth generation

The acquisition of Intel modem business displays Apple’s ambition to ramp up on 5G technology. The foothold in the 5G modem business is also expected to reduce Apple’s reliance on Qualcomm, its modem supplier. Speaking of the competition, Apple’s global rivals in the handset business – Samsung Electronics and Huawei – already produce their own modem chips.

“Apple has a lot of catching up to Samsung and Huawei in the 5G modem market, and while it has now gained technology from Intel, there is still a significant gap and it will be a haul for Apple to suddenly catch up and overtake them,” said Turner. “Apple’s modem supplier, Qualcomm isn’t likely to be worried by this news either – it too has a lead of several years. The bottom line is that Apple didn’t have a lot of options to turn too if it wanted to be in control of as much of the phone IP stack as possible. It purchased a modem supplier that was perhaps the weakest in the market and had already thrown in the towel on their mobile modem business.”

Apple will take some time to absorb the Intel team into its business and likewise with the modem roadmap. The deal is a step in Apple’s journey to make all of its own smartphone chips and having a more self-sufficient supply chain.

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VendorSphere AI Gets Real Ramco Makes Your Systems Work For You
VendorSphere: AI Gets Real – Ramco’s Vision Is To Make Your Systems Work For You

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I recently attended a briefing with Ramco Systems – if you haven’t heard of them, they are one of an emerging group of software vendors who are challenging the big application software companies – SAP and Oracle. They put innovation at the centre of their business – aiming to constantly drive improvement for their customers, and bringing companies the benefits of systems that consumers see in their web-based and mobile apps but have been sorely missing from the enterprise application market. To be honest they are a breath of fresh air in a market that needs it – and their endeavours are seeing results both in plaudits from analyst firms and new customer wins.

At the briefing, Ramco demonstrated some of the AI capabilities they have been weaving into their software platforms. And in doing so they have shown the gap between today’s systems and systems that actually work for their clients. ERP, HR, Payroll and other enterprise applications are data sinks – they demand constant input, and while they do a good job in automating business processes, they could do so much more.

Within Ramco they have moved away from email completely for employee inquiries – all interactions now happen with their transactional chatbot, including scheduling meetings, checking leave balances, discovering and understanding personal achievements, raising a travel request and claiming travel expenses – as well as understanding company policies and supporting employees with speculative queries. This same bot is available for clients as they aim towards a zero-UI interface – no more logging onto systems and interrogating applications, running searches. Now you ask a question and get an answer – using an IM client or a voice interface (such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa devices). This is the way systems should serve employees.

Like other enterprise application vendors, they have added an AI capability to their platform – but they are taking the extra step to make that AI work out of the box (or the cloud). For example, with all the information in your HR systems (employee skills, time and attendance, incentives, expenses, payroll) they are looking at making that information accessible and actionable for potential users – creating systems that understand the context and anticipate needs.

In your finance or ordering systems, they are applying machine learning so it understands that ‘client A’ tends to order specific items from specific locations – so ordering agents are guided towards those options versus having to scroll through long lists.

(see images for an example of that in the process)

They are recommending where costs should be allocated or validating inputs based on historical learnings. The systems can catch a mistake, errors or even fraud – saving the business significant amounts of money and of time in error correction or re-work.

 

Ramco’s vision is that agents only have to manage exceptions in enterprise applications – not every single detail. Complete automation is still an unrealistic expectation, but businesses should aim for 85% automation, with 12% of processes needing intervention for mild intervention and 3% needing deep intervention. In Ecosystm’s experience speaking to businesses that have automated to such a degree, an 85% automation does NOT lead to an 85% saving – as you typically automate the easier cases anyway. But the savings should be real and measurable – up to 50% time saving for accounts receivable or payable teams, for payroll teams, for help desks or for other highly manual processes should be achievable.

And while the business case can be built on the saving, the pay-off also comes in happier and more engaged employees who have the information right at their fingertips to make better business decisions or drive smarter business processes.

So why highlight Ramco’s AI capabilities? For a number of reasons:

  1. For AI to be widely adopted, it needs to be easy and accessible – Many other vendors (the big cloud players in particular) are making AI tools and assets available for customers, but they still have to do the hard work – find a business problem, gather the data, train the algorithm, deploy the algorithm and then train users on the new process. There are hundreds – or even thousands of examples of processes in business that can be made smarter and easier through the use of machine learning and AI – and vendors should be building these capabilities into the products and platforms. Ramco is doing that – they are by no means alone – but they are a good example of a software vendor that is disrupting a market by focusing on helping their customer succeed.
  2. I believe there is a bigger trend going on in the way businesses buy software (and look out for an upcoming report on this topic). More and more I see businesses adopt the best solution for their needs – NOT the one that does 80% of what they want. And the best software is often built by smaller, more agile companies. They build for specific business needs and specific niches – and they focus on providing exactly what customers want. I am seeing a general move away from the big platform providers towards the smaller ISVs. Partly because they cost less (I regularly hear companies say they saved up to 90% by using a specialist provider!) – but also because they provide the best solution – and businesses can no longer compromise when it comes to driving the best customer and employee experiences. Again, Ramco is a part of this change.

You should demand more from your applications provider – an AI platform is not enough. They need to make your actual application smart – they need to be able to automate processes you are already doing. If you have data the system should be able to learn, they need to focus on making the system work for you, your employees and your customers – not the other way around (as is too often the case). AI needs to be a core component of your business applications, not a bolt-on.

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InsureTech Cover
InsureTech: Transforming the Insurance Industry

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The global insurance industry today faces several challenges  – starting from the shift in the demographic patterns and the disease burden, to managing an ever-growing agent ecosystem,  to responding to customer expectations. The advancement in technologies and their adoption is creating opportunities for insurance companies to modernise and reinvent themselves through new product and services offerings and by evolving their business models.

Drivers of Transformation in the Insurance Industry

  • Global Competition. Over the last few years, leading insurance providers have been looking for a share of the global market and are no longer content with their traditional domestic markets. They especially want to get into markets where there are fewer players and/or larger population. The Indian insurance industry, for example, has seen a number of new private entrants over the last decade, attracted by the large population base and by a high percentage of young population. Many of the leading global insurance providers have partnered with Indian counterparts for a presence in the market. The story is similar in several emerging economies. While the presence of insurance providers is good for the future sustainability of a country, the market is extremely competitive. Investing in technology can be the key differentiator in capturing a larger share of the pie.
  • Customer Expectations. Today’s customers are tech-savvy and expect a certain level of service and at their fingertips too. Moreover, easy access to the internet equips them to do basic research to evaluate their best options. The Fintech revolution also impacts the customer base, as they expect services such as instant approval and prefer to purchase items only when they require them. This ‘on-demand’ market has fueled the microinsurance industry and opened the gates for smaller providers.
  • Regulatory Requirements. In the aftermath of the financial crisis of the previous decade and with new entrants in several countries, regulatory authorities are working on an overdrive to bring better accountability to the insurance market. Moreover, in most countries the regulations have incorporated market conduct guidelines aimed at consumer protection.  Reporting, service level and fraud prevention requirements will see an increased uptake of technologies that can assist in fulfilling compliance requirements.

Key InsureTech Technologies

  • IoT. The auto insurance companies were the first to leverage IoT and telematics to enhance navigation, safety and communication features that could help customise the premiums payable. The home insurance sector has already leveraged it using sensors and connectivity to assess and reduce risks to the properties they insure  – large providers such as Allianz, Aviva and AXA have been working on their IoT ecosystem. This has immense potential for ‘usage-based’, personalised product and premium offerings in the health and life insurance industries (provided they work within the purview of compliance requirements).  Ultimately sensors are not the most important technology in an IoT solution – the analytics solutions that can derive intelligence from the sensor data are. IoT+AI will give that much-needed edge to insurance companies.
  • AI – Machine Learning. AI and machine learning make it possible for insurance companies to mine both structured and unstructured data. The use cases range from underwriting, claims management and personalised offerings through behavioural data and sentiment analysis. There are examples of early adopters in the auto industry – but again there are obvious and wider use cases, that can benefit risk modelling, pricing, customer acquisition, and agent and channel efficiency.
  • AI – Virtual assistants/Chatbots. This falls right in with managing customer experiences. As customers expect more self-service (yes, the future will see less agents!) several insurance providers are using chatbots at several customer touchpoints, covering departments such as Sales and Claims. This will increasingly be the norm as smart phone (and app) penetration increases and the target base becomes younger. There are online-only insurance providers where clients interact with chatbots services and they are able to cater to a larger, untapped, mass market. There are more advanced adoption examples such as USAA’s use of intelligent personal assistant equipped with an NLP engine that have been trained with a deeper knowledge of policies. Virtual insurance agents will become more of a norm in the near future.

Which brings us to the important question on how insurance companies are planning to leverage InsureTech. Multiple stakeholders could benefit from InsureTech adoption. The Claims department appears to be a key stakeholder, focused both on fraud prevention and automation when it comes to transaction and processing. Sales and Customer Service appear to be next in line, where personalisation of product offerings would equip the teams better for a competitive market.

Challenges of AI Adoption in Insurance

It is obvious that the insurance companies are still at a nascent stage of adoption of AI and InsureTech. While cybersecurity is a recurrent concern (as it should be), it is a common concern across any technology area. The biggest challenge that the insurance industry faces in adoption of AI and other data-driven technologies is the actual data management – from access to integration. The industry may be data-intensive, but the data exists in silos. In the end an InsureTech implementation should benefit multiple departments – Underwriting, Claims, Sales and so on.

Several insurance companies will look to consulting firms and systems integrators to create a roadmap to their transformation journey and enable the data integration – especially as technologies evolve and when internal IT lack the right skills to manage these projects.

The technology that will be the key component of InsureTech and transform the insurance industry is AI. In spite of the challenges of adoption, the industry will be forced to transform to survive in the highly competitive market. Companies in emerging economies will especially benefit from investing in AI – in fact, India and especially China will see a surge in InsureTech investments.

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Ecosystm Snapshot: Singapore refreshes Personal Data Protection Act framework

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At the 7th Personal Data Protection Seminar, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran announced a framework to bolster Singapore’s digital economy and to drive Singapore’s vision of turning the country into a regional data protection hub.

The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), which oversees the country’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), has developed a new framework to better support organisations in the hiring and training requirements of Data Protection Officers.

 

Why the Need?

PDPA has been around for a while and the new framework is brought into practice to enable a greater focus of government and organisations on data privacy. According to Ecosystm’s expert on GDPR and Data Privacy, Claus Mortensen, “the initiative reflects the difference between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ when it comes to data security. PDPA is not making changes to the present regulatory framework, but they are putting together a program and guidelines for how companies can apply and abide by the present regulatory framework.”

 

Ensuring PDPA framework compliance

The PDPC plans to collaborate with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and NTUC LearningHub to create a year-long pilot training program to train at least 500 data protection officers in its first intake. The Data Protection Officers would help to manage the complex and highly sensitive task of data flows.

To ensure the data flow mechanisms and to ensure security, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has been appointed as Singapore’s Accountability Agent (AA) for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors (PRP) Systems certifications. IMDA will allow Singaporean organisations to be certified in APEC CBPR and PRP Systems for accountable data transfers.

 

“The PDPA requires a data protection officer to be appointed in every organisation. This framework is focused on educating and certifying these officers. However, it mostly makes it easier for slightly larger companies who can afford to send employees on longer training programs or who are able to hire people, who have taken the certificates. Smaller organisations – such as start-ups – would benefit more from detailed guidelines and from on-premises guidance. Establishing a framework for such services could be the next area of focus for the PDPC.” said Mortensen.

 

Legislature for the data handling and exchange practices

The private data has become an increased target of hackers as well as an international commodity. Attackers always mine the cyberspace for any leaks or financial information that they can exploit to their advantage.

“Managing sensitive data is notoriously complicated – especially for ‘legacy’ companies that still have or rely on non-digitised data. Even when all data is digital, employees may have copies on their PCs, they may have partial backups on removable media, some data may need to be shared with sub-contractors, moved around between cloud providers, etc. This can make it very difficult to map out PDPA relevant data in the organisation. Even when the data has been mapped, it can be difficult to ensure that all business and data processes are compliant. This is where on-premises guidance can make a difference,” said Mortensen. “While the government clearly aim the new framework initiatives at helping SMEs, it will help further protect consumer’s sensitive data.”

 

Importance of Cyber Security

A business harnessing digital technology can’t afford to gamble with sensitive data and rising cyber-attacks. The government is taking initiatives by forming guidelines and regulations to prevent cyber-attacks, but it is the responsibility of businesses to have a cybersecurity strategy in place to prevent a breach. If a business becomes a victim of hacking, it is perceived as a failure to the company.

The government passed the PDPA law and compliance to ensure that businesses understand the importance of cybersecurity. Therefore, every business, organisation or academic institution must ensure compliance with the data protection act and must have security best practices to safeguard the data of its customers.

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VendorSphere: Zoom Accelerating their pace in APAC

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Zoom is no stranger in today’s world of video and collaboration. Organisations would have heard of Zoom, trialled the product or are now users of the product for video collaboration.  Zoom’s success is built on the simplicity of their technology and the ability of the solution to be deeply embedded within workflows.  They have put some serious thoughts into user design and how that experience through the app or when launching the solution from the PC/ laptop allows for a smooth integration to email, calendars as well as other popular collaboration applications (including Slack).  The market for cloud videoconferencing is growing rapidly. As the market shifts towards new and more agile ways of working and as co-working spaces rise globally, the need to collaborate and communicate instantaneously without too much hassle and interruptions will be critical.  We are living in an era where it will be all about the experience.

Zoom’s share value has risen more than 120% from the $36 IPO debut price.  Zoom has been focusing on building a base of high-value customers (those that spend more than USD 100,000 per year for services). In the last quarter alone the number of high-value customers went up by over 17%.

Rapid expansion outside of the ANZ region

Zoom has witnessed rapid growth in the ANZ region in recent years. Demand for the solution continues to come from both medium and large enterprises. Japan will be an important market for Zoom and they are starting to work with some big names in the market such as Rakuten and are expanding on growing their partner network. With a good data centre footprint which is critical for video and collaboration, other key markets for Zoom in Asia include India, South East Asia, Hong Kong and China. Their wins in these markets are from some of the biggest brands and conglomerates. Zoom’s growth in Asia is demonstrating how their cloud-based video solution is becoming the preferred platform, even if IT has already invested in other cloud video offerings.  Demand is coming from the lines of business and not necessarily through IT. That is a big differentiator – Zoom being used by lines of business changes the entire sales process. It is now driven by word of mouth and individual user experience and LOBs which then becomes a companywide opportunity for Zoom. When you put that into context, the sheer numbers in terms of users within an organisation becomes large.

The launch of Zoom Phone

Zoom launched their Zoom Phone cloud phone service in Australia, supporting local phone numbers and PSTN access with new metered and unlimited call plans. Customers have the option of using their own carrier or using a Zoom number. The launch of Zoom phone should not be taken lightly by their competitors as they have so far succeeded in pulling customers to their app and impressing them with the user experience. Once the customer is locked into Zoom, the user experience has somehow led them to want to use it even more. With the launch of voice, they are now pushing themselves deeper into an account by creating upsell opportunities in workplace video, collaboration and voice technologies. This allows them to take on UC players across the stack of video, voice and collaboration.

Accelerating deep partnerships with leading cloud innovators

Zoom has strong partnerships with leading cloud platforms. Zoom’s partnership with Dropbox allows customers of both services to start a Zoom Meeting while viewing or working on shared files via shortcuts built into Dropbox’s viewer tool. The Atlassian partnership, for instance, allows Jira Ops to be integrated with Zoom. Users will be able to start a meeting directly from a Jira Ops ticket with anyone associated with the ticket. These are some of the partnerships and it demonstrates how Zoom has thought about other critical cloud apps that are important for day-to-day work and collaboration and the ability that can make Zoom the app that can provide that in-between integration for collaboration.

Ecosystm Comments

Zoom’s architecture is video-first, cloud-native and optimised to process and deliver high-quality video across devices. They reported recently that their approach to video has been uniquely different from that taken by others who have attempted to add a video to an aging, pre-existing conference call or chat tool. Zoom developed a proprietary multimedia router optimised for the cloud that separates content processing from the transporting and mixing of streams.

With the launch of Zoom Phone and the adoption they are witnessing of their video platform, Zoom is set to be a leading provider in video and voice collaboration. We can expect Zoom to further build on the office collaboration stack in the near future. As organisations start deploying solutions from cloud innovators such as AWS, Slack, Microsoft, Google and others, Zoom stands out from that standpoint. They are a cloud innovator that has thought about the issues of the past and the pain points of those using video. The thinking behind user design and simplicity and the integration to workflows has paved the way for the success they are seeing today.

As they grow their presence with some of the largest brands and Fortune 500 companies in the Asia Pacific region, they will also start attracting partners who will want to be part of that journey with them so it’s a win-win for both parties. These partnerships will include a range – from the existing players in the video to other workplace collaboration vendors.

For the fiscal year ended January 31, 2019, Zoom reported that 55% of their 344 high-end customers started with at least one free host prior to subscribing. These 344 customers also contributed to 30% of revenue in that fiscal year.

The journey has just started for Zoom in Asia Pacific and we can expect the next 12 months to be good for them as they expand rapidly across the region.

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