All posts in “Business”

Apple is spending $1 billion to hire up to 15,000 new employees in Austin

Amazon isn’t the only company expanding its footprint on the U.S. Apple announced a series of expansions in the U.S., including the location of its massive second campus which is set to be Austin, Texas.

Apple announced earlier in the year that it would be launching a second major campus in the U.S., but at the time it didn’t announce the location of it. Now, not only do we know that it will be located in Austin, but we also know that the company will be spending $1 billion to get it up and running. Eventually, the Austin campus will be second in size only to the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. In fact, the new 133-acre campus is expected to make Apple the largest private employer in Austin and will accommodate 5,000 employees at first, with an ultimate total capacity of 15,000.

apple us expansions

The new office will focus on a number of different facets of the company’s business, including “engineering, R&D, operations, finance, sales, and customer support.”

Austin isn’t the only place Apple us expanding to. The company has also announced smaller expansions in cities like San Diego, Seattle, and Culver City, California, which Apple will each have more than 1,000 employees in each city. Over the next three years, Apple also plans on expanding operations in New York, Boulder, Colorado, and Pittsburgh. These expansions could be huge for the cities in which they take place — though only if they can manage the quick growth well and not let it lead to a shortage in housing and resources.

Of course, many of the expansions Apple announced are simply additions to existing offices. Apple already has offices in Austin where it employs as many as 6,200 people. In total, Apple employs over 90,000 people in the U.S., with more than 1,000 employees in 16 states. At the beginning of 2018, the company committed to investing $350 billion in the U.S. economy, and the new announcement could go a long way in achieving that.

The growth could also help convince the government and customers that Apple is committed to operations in the U.S. The company has been criticized by some for the partnerships and operations it has in China.

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This A.I.-enabled tech brings cutting-edge automation to grocery stores

There is a real battle to change how consumers get their groceries raging right now, as exemplified by Amazon’s structural changes at Whole Foods, Walmart’s new push to deliver groceries, and Amazon’s cashless convenience stores. A new Boston-based company called Takeoff Technologies wants to occupy the sweet spot between all those innovations by bringing artificial intelligence-driven, robot-enhanced order fulfillment to grocery stores all over the country.

The basic idea is to install automated centers inside of grocery stores that are capable of assembling orders of up to 60 items in minutes, at a fraction of the speed and cost of having employees hand-pick the shopping order.

takeoff robotic grocery fulfilment inside fulfillment

“Until now, the grocery industry has adopted two approaches to fulfill online orders,” co-founder and CEO Jose Vicente Aguerrevere explained to Digital Trends. “The first one is manual picking at the store level, and the second one is large warehouses with some sort of automation. These models only partially tackle the key costs of doing groceries online: Cost of picking products and cost of the last mile. Takeoff brings in an innovative approach that brings automation to the store level. This brings the best of two worlds: Lowest picking costs with robotized fulfillment and lowest cost of the last mile with hyperlocal operation.”

Takeoff is partnered with Knapp, a global leader in automated warehouse solutions and co-founders Aguerrevere and Max Pedro say the automation is beyond proven. “We are not reinventing the wheel with new robotic hardware and going through long cycles of [research and development],” Pedro said.

takeoff robotic grocery fulfilment technologies knapp robotics 0

Takeoff works with retailers to identify 8,000 to 10,000-square-foot spaces inside existing grocery stores where they can employ their automated fulfillment system. By applying an additional layer of intelligence to a technology that already performs in more than 2,000 operational sites, Takeoff says that hyperlocal fulfillment will improve the experience of customers as well as store efficiency.

“Takeoff’s lower cost to serve than other models translates into lower costs and fees to shoppers,” Aguerrevere said. “Also, it enables a quick response to customers with orders fulfilled and delivered within two hours. It’s a real win-win for retailers and their customers.”

The company has already installed its first platform at a grocer called Sedano’s Supermarket in Miami, dubbed the “world’s first robotic supermarket,” and Takeoff is currently deploying additional sites for well-known chains like Albertsons and Ahold Delhaize.

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Robotic grocery fulfillment is clearly a hot concept not only in the grocery market, where online sales are expected to reach $100 billion by 2025, but also in the minds of investors, who recently awarded Takeoff $12.5 million in a recent round of funding.

“Ecommerce presents a great growth opportunity for grocers,” Aguerrevere said. “However, the path to profitability has been challenging. Costs of picking and costs of the last-mile delivery coupled with the industry’s low margins make it challenging to be profitable without charging significant fees to shoppers. Takeoff’s hyperlocal automated solution offers low costs of picking with a much lower cost of the last mile delivery than an off-site warehouse. It’s also 10 times less expensive to build and takes three months as opposed to three years.”

Wix Launches 20-Product CRM Suite for SMBs

Website building platform provider Wix on Tuesday launched Ascend, a CRM suite.

Ascend consists of 20 products, including tools for site promotion, cross-channel customer interaction management, intuitive search engine optimization, content creation for social media channels, lead capture, and the ability to respond to queries automatically, along with a chat-centric interface that allows real-time interactions with customers.

Ascend incorporates some existing Wix offerings: Chat; a Members Area; Automations, a product that lets business owners set up triggers to automate and manage interactions with customers; Email Marketing; and Forms.

All interactions with a customer are routed into a single in-box, regardless of the channel they came in on, which can be accessed on any device.

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Ascend costs US$9 to $45 per month, depending on various factors. It is fully integrated with the Wix platform and does not require any third-party plug-ins.

“With the launch of Ascend, we are expanding our market by offering management tools, marketing and promotion capabilities,” said Wix CEO Avisai Abrahami. “Ascend is the next iteration in a long line of products, informed by our data and designed with our users, and their success, as our inspiration.”

Wix “has always been one of the key ‘starter’ commerce pages,” observed Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“They have made website creation simple and easy,” he told CRM Buyer.

Wix “is the campaign-to-commerce platform for small businesses,” Wang noted, naming Weebly, GoDaddy, Square Space and Jimdo as its key competitors.

Ascend’s features “take Wix closer to the CRM space,” he said. Wix “goes after Zoho and Infusionsoft on CRM, but the reality is, they are moving from website and content to commerce and CRM.”

Focusing on the ‘S’ in SMB

“Cloud applications such as Wix enable SMBs to more effectively compete against later firms by putting more sophisticated marketing, sales and commerce capabilities — and a more professional presence — within their reach, remarked Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

“We see larger vendors recognizing the SMB opportunity — with Salesforce’s Essentials, for example,” she told CRM Buyer, “but Wix’s focus on the ‘S’ of SMB makes it attractive for entrepreneurs looking for solutions tailored to them.”

Other companies, such as Infusionsoft, “have had considerable success with this approach,” Wettemann said.

Ascend and CRM

Automation, email marketing and forms are the three features of Ascend that will be used most, Consellation’s Wang predicted.

Still, Ascend is “just getting started,” he said. It “barely covers 10 percent of most CRM systems’ features.”

Whether Ascend will succeed at transitioning Wix into the CRM space remains to be seen.

“A key challenge for Wix is going to be to achieve scale in providing not just technologies but a community for users to share best practices, advice, etc.,” Nucleus’ Wettemann pointed out.

Ascend’s strengths are ease of use, and the fact that it offers “natural extensions of products SMBs need,” Constellation’s Wang said.

However, it “needs more flexibility and customization to grow,” he added. “Otherwise, folks will graduate from Wix to other products. They are doing this to keep high-growth customers who need adjacent solutions.”

Bucking the Headless Commerce Trend

Another issue Wix will face is the headless e-commerce trend, which entails decoupling the front end from the back end and using RESTful APIs.

Traditional off-the-shelf e-commerce solutions are mainly full-stack applications with predefined front ends and admin consoles, with the front-end experience and functionality deeply coupled with the back-end code and infrastructure.

An API-based headless architecture offers increased flexibility through its decoupled user interface approach, according to a report by Gartner analysts Jeffery Skowron and Brad Dayley.

“Headless commerce is all about using whatever combination of front-end content — or presentation layer — and back-end commerce [that] is most powerful and preferable for a merchant, regardless of size,” said Travis Balinas, director of product marketing at BigCommerce.

Wix “is making the assumption that it can effectively handle the needs of its customers that scale beyond the capabilities of the core offering, which is not accurate,” he told CRM Buyer. “If Wix truly cared about the success of its customers, it would offer ways that merchants can grow without [tying] them to a single platform.”

Headless commerce is not an option for every platform.

There are two significant barriers” to approaching headless commerce, Balinas said.

First is the extensibility of the overall tech stack of the SaaS platform the vendor is trying to take headless.

The platform must make its various components available in a consumable API or SDK with “substantial throughput and efficiencies,” Balinas noted. The speed of the APIs is “paramount to making sure efficiencies are gained for midmarket and enterprise merchants.”

Second is the balance between flexibility and extensibility on the one hand, and the cost of the solution on the other.

“By their very nature, [API-first commerce platforms] are highly flexible and extensible, but, at the end of the day, businesses are looking to lower their total cost of ownership while reducing the investment costs associated with implementing and maintaining an entirely bespoke commerce experience,” Balinas pointed out.

“The sweet spot we’ve identified falls squarely between a closed SaaS platform and an open-ended, API-first platform,” he said. BigCommerce earlier this month announced global availability of its BigCommerce for WordPress headless commerce integration.

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
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Oracle and the JEDI Contract

I was struck by the news that Oracle has filed a suit in federal court over the US$10 billion Pentagon JEDI contract to be awarded to a single vendor. Oracle claims that the single-vendor award is unfair and illegal, a claim it first filed with the GAO, or Government Accountability Office. The suit followed the GAO’s denial of Oracle’s claim.

My first instinct was to call this what it looked most like: legislative entrepreneurship. In other words, it’s easier and less costly to bring a lawsuit and try to engage your congressional representatives than it is to do the hard work of research and development on products that people want to buy.

It also can be described as rent-seeking behavior. In rent-seeking, one party seeks to increase its share of existing wealth — like market share in the database market — without creating anything new. I am not an economist and am willing to be corrected on this, but first hear me out.

Synergy Counts

One of Oracle’s reasons the award should not be sole-sourced is that it already has increased the wealth of the database industry in ways unmatched by any of its competitors, especially Amazon Web Services, or AWS. As Oracle Senior Vice President Ken Glueck told TechCrunch:

“The technology industry is innovating around next generation cloud at an unprecedented pace and JEDI as currently envisioned virtually assures DoD will be locked into legacy cloud for a decade or more. The single-award approach is contrary to well established procurement requirements and is out of sync with industry’s multi-cloud strategy, which promotes constant competition, fosters rapid innovation and lowers prices.”

To be clear, Glueck was referring to Oracle’s next-generation cloud technology.

Oracle might have a fair point to make. Most of the database industry is far behind Oracle these days due to the company’s autonomous, self-patching database technology, supported by devices that keep data in memory for the fastest database operations possible.

The Oracle database definitely will run on AWS infrastructure, and Oracle’s benchmarks show that its database runs better on AWS than Amazon’s own databases, named “Redshift.” However, the same performance boost Oracle gets running its database on its servers is not available on AWS, because much of Oracle’s superior performance comes down to the software and hardware engineered to work synergistically.

Bad Bakeoff Timing

Although the JEDI award is still pending, other vendors, such as IBM, have been pulling out of the process, with many of the same complaints as Oracle. Increasingly, it looks like the real competition isn’t between AWS and Oracle software but between the companies, based on the market share each has in cloud infrastructure.

Oracle entered the competition relatively late, and Amazon has been building its infrastructure much longer — but should a purchase like this come down to considerations of physical plant over technology? What about competition?

This brings us back to the idea of a single award. In many if not most defense procurements, DoD sets up a bakeoff — a competition between two vendors or consortiums that build prototypes and test them against a set of evaluation criteria developed in advance.

For instance, the contract to supply jet engines for the F35 joint strike fighter was between Pratt and Whitney and GE/Rolls Royce. The competition lasted for years and eventually was won by Pratt and Whitney — but keep in mind that both competitors were paid billions to develop prototypes.

A similar competition would make sense for JEDI. True, it would add complexity and time to the procurement, but that’s what you do to ensure the taxpayers’ money is being well spent. The JEDI program seems like the DoD is trying to run the bakeoff during the rollout rather than before.

The award is a series of awards with go/no-go decision points. Presumably, if the winner can’t meet expectations after, say, the first two years, the contract can be canceled. This approach can be costly if it fails, however, because whatever was deployed would need to be rehosted — effectively deployed twice.

My Two Bits

This is the wrong debate. The core issue that somebody ought to be addressing is how software vendors strike down the last walls between systems and produce a fully interoperative software utility that doesn’t look under the hood at which badges are on the database engine but accepts that whatever is there works.

Oracle has a point that it offers technically superior products, and Amazon can make a fair case about deployability — but we would never have gotten to this point if there were better interoperability between systems.

Perhaps no one in tech wants to hear this, but technology is rapidly commoditizing. The mere fact that a supercomputer is in most people’s pockets today testifies to this. Interoperability is an inevitable part of commoditization — either because vendors conclude it’s better to work together, or because all but one or two vendors exit the business.

Oracle has a point: It has superior technology. Amazon has a point: It has superior market share. Of the two, it’s a heck of a lot easier to build cloud data centers than it is to design and build the software. This process, if left unchanged, will ensure that DoD can deploy old technology rapidly. We should never have gotten to this point.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there.
Email Denis.

T-Mobile 5G rollout: Everything you need to know

While U.S. carriers have long been in a cutthroat race in their quest to be the first to offer 5G, November has been a particularly busy month. Earlier this month, Verizon announced it has completed its first 5G transmission using the Moto Z3 and forthcoming 5G Moto Mod. A week later, T-Mobile completed the world’s first 5G transmission on low-band spectrum (600 MHz), using its commercial network in Spokane, Washington.

While the nation’s two largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T, are relying heavily on millimeter wave (mmWave) for their initial 5G rollouts, T-Mobile is betting heavily on low-band spectrum. In fact, the carrier purchased 45 percent off all low-band spectrum sold at auction by the Federal Communications Commission in 2018, making it the largest holder of unused low-band spectrum in the U.S.

Apparently, 5G transmission at 600 MHz manages to solve a major problem other carriers are experiencing with mmWave. Put simply, low-band spectrum can reach more customers, and requires less hardware to do so. In fact, T-Mobile claims “low-band airwaves will provide 5G coverage across hundreds of square miles from a single tower,” while mmWave sites cover less than a square mile.

T-Mobile’s low-spectrum holdings across the U.S. means it may be the first carrier to offer 5G service to rural areas. In its latest announcement, T-Mobile CEO John Legere reiterated this, stating: “The Un-carrier is focused on delivering 5G for everyone, everywhere, while the other guys focus on 5G for the few – reaching just a few people in small areas of a handful of cities.”

And while low-band spectrum will give T-Mobile an edge in the race to dominate the 5G market, it’s network will ultimately provide 5G in all spectrum bands. Such a multi-band approach will allow T-Mobile to use its midband spectrum to provide consistent capacity and speed, and its mmWave spectrum for ultrahigh speeds in dense areas, said Karri Kuoppamaki, T-Mobile U.S. vice president of radio network technology deployment and strategy.

This has been a very busy year for T-Mobile. In April, the carrier announced its plans to merge with Sprint in 2019. And in July, T-Mobile signed a $3.5 billion dollar deal with Finnish manufacturer Nokia to supply hardware for its national 5G network build-out.

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