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Most Businesses Want Agility but Few Have It

Although many organizations recognize that agility enables better responses to changing business conditions, few have taken the necessary steps to reach that goal, a new study from CA Technologies suggests.

Although two-thirds of the respondents to the firm’s recent survey saw value in business agility, only about 12 percent said their organizations were on their way to achieving it.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said improved business agility could provide a better competitive advantage; 65 percent said it could lead to higher customer satisfaction and retention; and 58 percent said it could result in better employee satisfaction and retention.

Despite those clear advantages, though, many businesses face hurdles in their quest for better agility. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents cited complex environments as an impediment to achieving that goal, while 58 percent cited cultural and political barriers. Twenty-five percent said there was a lack of financial commitment, and another 25 percent cited outdated apps and tools.

“Success today requires that companies quickly sense and adapt to changes, pivot to address market changes and customer needs, and do so at scale,” said Surya Panditi, general manager of agile management at CA Technologies.

High-Level Execs

More than 150 top executives at selected companies participated in the survey, which Gatepoint Research conducted between March and June of this year. The survey pool’s composition was 19 percent C-level, 15 percent vice president level, 36 percent director-level and 30 percent managerial-level company officials.

CA Technologies has focused heavily on the development ops and cloud space since its 2015 acquisition of Rally Software Development Corp., a provider of agile development software, for US$480 million.

“We’re at a tipping point, and this is just the beginning,” CA Technologies Director of Marketing Marla Schimke told the E-Commerce Times.

Vantiv Case Study

Among the companies that CA Technologies has helped transform since the Rally deal is payment processing solutions provider Vantiv, a customer using CA’s Agile Central tool.

CA Technologies worked with Vantiv to get its products to market more quickly and improve collaboration between its product and IT organization, enabling it to be more responsive to customer needs.

“The goal was to grow our organization in a way that would separate us from the competition by enabling us to deliver, incrementally, the right thing,” said David Kent, enterprise agile coach at Vantiv.

“In doing so, we would be much more engaging with our clients, deepening our relationships — and, again, getting them what they wanted and needed without the excess they wouldn’t utilize,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Elusive Objective

“For most companies, the likeliest impediments to agile adoption are organization complexity, and cultural or political resistance,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“In the first case, agile adoption works best when it extends across the enterprise, not just a few departments,” King explained, “but that requires senior executives to be on board with the strategy and be willing to lead — forcefully, if necessary.”

Like individuals, organizations tend to resist change, he said, especially when it may lead to a shift in the balance of power, or threaten the position of various individuals or groups.

“Unless agile projects and strategies are carefully nurtured and monitored, organizations run the risk of efforts being nudged off track,” said King, or becoming “subject to painful or even fatal delays.”

The perceived difficulty in attaining business agility may be clouded by the challenge of assessing a company’s performance in real time, suggested Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“I find it hard to believe that a company can adequately evaluate if they are agile or not. The only way to really determine if your organization is agile is through hindsight,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“Changes in business can come from just about anywhere — the economy, business segment, competitors, regulations, customers, etc. The only truly agile businesses are startups, because they have to react to anything that comes their way to survive,” McGregor explained. “As companies grow and mature, they naturally become less agile just by adding structure.”

The study’s release comes at a time when BMC Software reportedly is in talks on a potential deal to merge with CA Technologies.

BMC had contacted banks about obtaining financing for such a deal — one that would create one of the largest leveraged buyouts since Dell went private in 2013, Reuters reported in June. CA at the time had a market capitalization of about $13 billion.

CA spokesperson Leslie Marcotte told the E-Commerce Times that the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

It’s a Whole New World With Alexa

Voice computing is replacing the graphical user interface, Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association, said early this year at CES.

Digital assistants will be integrated into many household objects, he noted.

About 5 million voice-activated digital voice products had been sold as of January, and Bravac estimated 5 million more would be sold this year.

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant software captured 88 percent of the global intelligent home speaker market in the last quarter of 2016, according to Strategy Analytics.

That widespread acceptance suggests that it could be in Alexa’s power to disrupt multiple industries as the world increasingly goes digital and the Internet of Things becomes the norm — including retail, travel, the automobile industry, customer interactions, e-commerce, security cameras, intelligent homes, and through integration with semiconductors, pretty much everything else.

“Alexa’s very popular because of its open platform approach,” commented Trip Chowdhry, managing director of equity research at Global Equities Research.

However, its success “depends on a smart company that knows how to integrate it into their platform,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Not every device using Alexa will be successful.”

Boots on the Ground, Metaphorically Speaking

Smart appliances using Alexa and other voice assistants are available from home appliance makers including LG, Bosch, GE and Kenmore.

Then there are the Arlo security cameras, which support Alexa.

“The old world was, you put in your wires, put in your system, and stream it 24 hours a day and you’re still clueless,” Chowdhry observed.

The Arlo platform is unique “because you have a very smart device running in an unfettered mode which can do visual intelligence in the cloud and can be controlled and enabled through voice commands,” he explained.

Several automobile companies, including Ford, BMW and Hyundai, are rolling out Alexa capabilities, or “skills,” as they’re called.

Alexa in Retail

Amazon recently relaunched the Dash Wand, with the Alexa voice assistant built in. It lets consumers scan barcodes of items on store shelves and add them to their shopping cart, or use voice commands to place shopping orders through Amazon’s Dash consumer goods ordering service.

The possibilities for such devices are “basically limitless,” noted Stephen Kaufman, chief product officer at Blue Software.

However, their use requires consumer goods manufacturers to provide accurate and rich product data on the bar code.

“If the data’s incomplete or inaccurate, the brand will risk a slide in consumer trust or confidence,” Kaufman told the E-Commerce Times.

With the advent of this technology, the entire retail landscape “could shift to a substantially different model,” he observed.

Shopify Plus merchants soon will have access to ChatBot, Linc Global’s voice and digital customer service and engagement platform, which will let them offer branded customer ChatBots on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, as well as voice assistance through Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

Voice-Enabling Customer Facing Tech

Voice technologies are gaining ground in customer relationship management, but users still have to make sure they “deliver the right experience contextual to the customer’s need at his or her moment of need,” emphasized Ying Chen, Pegasystems‘ head of platform product marketing.

However, the technology has to evolve more to become pre-emptive, and “this is where transparent [artificial intelligence] comes in,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Businesses implementing CRM or other customer-facing technologies with voice capability need speech analytics to “quickly adapt or modify strategies to best meet and exceed customer expectations and provide a frictionless experience,” cautioned Brian Laroche, CallMiner’s director of program marketing.

CallMiner’s products automate and analyze 100 percent of customer interactions, he told the E-Commerce Times, quickly searching and identifying context-based critical business challenges in four main areas: contact center efficiency; agent performance; risk and compliance; and the customer experience.

They let businesses respond to operational inefficiencies, poor agent behaviors, customer dissatisfaction and other issues before they can impact the bottom line, Laroche added.

Splice Software recently released a new Alexa skills app that lets CRM pros in retail, insurance and finance industries connect with customers where, when and how they prefer.

Alexa in the Travel Industry

Consumers soon may be able to use voice commands to book trips and check into hotel rooms, among other things.

“Voice-activated Internet is looking more and more like it will eventually replace the mobile app universe and, in this context, the rise of voice-activated search may upend direct booking wars between suppliers and third parties,” suggested Carl Livadas, VP of data science at Sojern, which offers traveler marketing to hotels, airlines, rental car companies and others travel industry companies.

“We’re not only seeing brands like Marriott testing both Siri and Alexa, but some brands are even developing their own signature technologies,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

AI and machine learning will be incorporated with voice to offer a full personalized experience, but this “will take a lot of back-end work from travel brands to educate customers and to provide the right responses,” Livadas said.

Chip Ahoy!

Qualcomm eXtension Program members Sensory and Rubidium support the Alexa wake word on the Qualcomm CSR8670 and CSR8675 Bluetooth Audio SoCs (systems on chips). Bluetooth products made with them can be operated with Alexa voice commands.

Semiconductor maker Microsemi is offering the Microsemi AcuEdge Development Kit for Amazon AVS (Alexa Voice Service), which can be used for emerging human-to-machine applications in the Internet of Things, Industrial Internet of Things, and automated assistance markets.

“Although getting better each day, voice recognition is still more inaccurate than accurate, limiting its use to non-critical applications such as information and entertainment,” said Nucleus Research CEO Ian Campbell.

The situation will improve, and eventually it will be possible to envision an airline pilot “making a [radio] frequency change request to a virtual assistant,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “rather than entering the frequency by pressing buttons or turning knobs.”

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.
Email Richard.

WannaCry Hero Arrested on Kronos Malware Charges

In a stunning twist, U.S. authorities this week arrested a British cyber-researcher credited with stopping the spread of the WannaCry ransomware virus on charges he helped develop and deploy the Kronos banking trojan that attacked financial institutions around the world in 2014.

Following a two-year investigation, a federal grand jury in Wisconsin last month handed down a six-count indictment against Marcus Hutchins, a resident and citizen of the UK who operated under the name “Malwaretech,” according to U.S. Attorney Gregory Haansted, who oversees the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Hutchins was arrested Wednesday at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where he had been attending the Def Con hacking conference. The charges include one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, three counts of distributing and advertising an electronic communication interception device, one count of endeavoring to intercept electronic communications, and one count of attempting to access a computer without authorization.

Origin Story

Hutchins created the Kronos malware, prosecutors have alleged.

A video showing the functionality of the Kronos banking trojan was posted to a publicly available website in July 2014, according to a copy of a sealed indictment the U.S. District Court posted July 12.

A defendant, whose name is blacked out, used the video to show how Kronos worked, the indictment says. A defendant, again with the name blacked out, offered to sell the Kronos banking trojan for US$3,000.

Defendants whose names were blacked out updated the Kronos malware early 2015, according to the indictment. In April of that year, a defendant with a name blacked out allegedly advertised the malware on the AlphaBay market forum.

In June 2015, a version of the Kronos malware was sold on the forum for $2,000 in digital currency. In July 2015, a defendant with the name blacked out offered “cryptying” services for Kronos — that is, computer code used to shield the malware from antivirus software, the indictment states.

Kronos was an ongoing threat; in late 2016, the Kelihos botnet was observed trying to load Kronos using an email phishing campaign. A Russian national, Peter Yuryevich Levashov, 36, was arrested in Barcelona this April on U.S. federal charges related to his alleged operation of Kelihos.

The Justice Department last month announced that AlphaBay, which is considered the largest criminal marketplace on the dark Web, was shut down following an international investigation. Alpha Bay had been used to sell everything from fentanyl and heroin to weapons, chemicals, stolen identification documents and hacking tools.

Authorities last month arrested Alexandre Cazes, a Canadian national living in Thailand, on charges he helped create and administer the site, but he reportedly took his own life while in Thai custody.

Arrest Fallout

Hutchins this spring was hailed as an international hero after he located the kill switch to end the WannaCry ransomware attack that had locked up thousands of computers across the globe.

However, his arrest does not appear to be directly related to WannaCry, said Mark Nunnikhoven, vice president of cloud security at Trend Micro.

The current case is particularly interesting because the charges indicate the arrest is based on the creation of Kronos, not its use, he said.

“Basically, it’s saying that the only possible use of the software was malicious,” Nunnikhoven told the E-Commerce Times.

Additional activity has been detected related to the WannaCry ransomware attack, specifically that the bitcoin wallet used in the attack had been emptied, noted James Pleger, managing director of global threat intelligence at Kudelski Security.

“This came as a bit of a surprise, considering that many criminals try to cash out as quickly as possible,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The delay may have been related to the scrutiny investigators placed on the attack early on, Pleger said — and on a more ominous note, added that it may indicate that the same hackers could be ready for a new attack using different methods.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney in Wisconsin was not immediately available for comment. The FBI referred all questions on the case to the DoJ.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

Excellent Customer Service Requires Emotional Intelligence

Staff engagement is a key component in a telco’s ability to positively impact customers, based on new data from InMoment.

Excellent Customer Service Requires Emotional Intelligence

The company recently conducted a survey of 11,000 North American customers of Internet, mobile and TV services and found that telecommunications companies’ customers just plain hate them.

Telcos are turning to self-service, automation and artificial intelligence applications like chatbots, but these tools are appropriate only in some scenarios, InMoment suggested.

In many parts of the telco customer journey, positive human interactions are essential and contribute to a good user experience, the company maintained.

Telcos should emphasize emotional IQ, or EQ, in hiring and training personnel with high emotional intelligence for all client-facing roles, the study recommends.

This holds true especially for physical locations where elevated support issues likely will be handled.

Ideal Support Staff Traits

“A huge indicator of whether support staff have what it takes for successful customer interactions is whether they really listen to and understand the issue,” said Andrew Park, director of CX strategy at InMoment.

Support staff “must be creative problem solvers, looking at each opportunity as an interesting puzzle to solve rather than a problem to get through,” he told CRM Buyer. They “should also be comfortable making smart, timely, yet empathetic decisions.”

Telcos should pay greater attention to emotional trends and related areas of weakness, the study suggests.

“We recommend [telcos] hire for connection, train for skills,” Park said. “It’s much easier to train personnel on facts than [instill] emotional and personality traits that may not come naturally to everyone.”

Telco Customers’ Disgust

Customer satisfaction fell at the one-year mark, no matter which service was used, as did the likelihood of a customer recommending the service provider to others, according to the survey.

Satisfaction over support staff knowledge, ability, efficiency, friendliness and helpfulness fell significantly at the one-year anniversary mark, and fluctuated throughout the term of a customer’s contract with the provider.

For many lines of service, the metrics showed no recovery of satisfaction.

Bill payment frustrations also peaked at the one-year anniversary mark. Both the ease of understanding a bill and the ease of paying it posed problems.

Customers who had switched providers in the previous year rated key areas of the user experience lower than those who had not switched, but they still were more likely to recommend their second provider.

Most major telcos have proactive outreach programs in the first year of their relationship with customers, but the outreach diminishes over time, the study found.

Many promotional offers expire at the one-year mark and a customer’s bill after that may differ from expectations. Customers were less willing to tolerate frustrations after the promotional period.

How Telcos Can Resolve the Problem

Telcos can invest in new technologies, such as remote diagnostic tools with video capabilities, the study suggests. That said, customer resolution strategies should include the option of human intervention with automated self-service solutions.

“Automation works well for simple and known issues,” InMoment’s Park pointed out. “Humans always perform better in more complex and emotionally charged situations.”

Sophisticated automation technology, such as AI chatbots, can understand what customers are saying in real time and trigger relevant follow-up questions to better understand what the next best action might be, Park observed.

“For instance, if an AI chatbot detects a customer’s experiencing escalating frustration based on their word choice and sentiment, it can ask whether the customer would like to be immediately routed to a human for more personalized care,” Park said.

Service reps who work well with people “are hard to find and command a higher wage than traditional service reps, who are often hired because they’re cheap,” observed Michael Jude, a research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“Rather than treating customer service as an unavoidable overhead, operators should view it as the point of it all,” he told CRM Buyer. “A good customer service rep can upsell and reduce churn simply by being facilitative.”

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.
Email Richard.

Businesses Leverage Instagram Stories to New Heights

Instagram’s Stories feature, which launched one year ago, has achieved widespread engagement among businesses that want to raise their brand awareness and expand their e-commerce penetration, the company said Wednesday.

The tool, launched in August 2016, allows users to create digital slide shows out of photos and videos in order to convey a story. Businesses ranging from Taco Bell to J.Crew and Starbucks have used Stories to give a behind-the-scenes peek at new products, launch limited sales, or get instant customer feedback about new initiatives.

More than 250 million daily active users are on Stories, compared to rival Snapchat’s 166 million, Instagram said.

Half of all businesses on Instagram produced an Instagram Story just in the last month, and one of every five organic stories from business members resulted in a direct message, the company claimed.

“That suggests businesses are exploring Stories as a means of interacting with existing and potential customers, and that some are succeeding pretty well in those efforts,” Pund-IT Principal Analyst Charles King told the E-Commerce Times.

Increased Engagement

Instagram rolled out Stories to boost member engagement, and statistics indicate the strategy worked, in terms of increased time spent on the service. Users under age 25 currently spend an average of 32 minutes a day on Instagram, while users over 25 spend an average of 24 minutes a day on the service, according to the company.

Instagram has added new features and tools to help businesses engage customers on the social media Grow your business with social media management services from Deluxe! site. There now are more than 15 million business profiles on Instagram, up sharply since March when there were about 8 million. More than 1 million advertisers currently use the site.

Sixty percent of Instagram users have discovered new products on the site, the company said. Seventy-five percent of Instagram users said they have taken action after being inspired by a post on the site.

One-third of the most-viewed posts on Instagram were from businesses, Instagram said.

“Several retailers have used Stories to some success for promotions and sales events,” noted Michael Jude, consumer communication services research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“These, by necessity, have been aimed at particular age and income demographics, so the resonance of this form of promotion is still limited in the general marketplace,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Fashion Trend

Due to its visual nature, Instagram Stories has been very strong with fashion brands like Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Dolce and Gabbana, said Zach Fuller, an analyst at Midia Research.

However, top fashion models like Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski do even better than the brands, he told the E-Commerce Times. Stories has proven to be an effective tool for individuals to leverage their direct relationship with an audience in brand partnerships.

To illustrate its effectiveness, Instagram cited two businesses that have used it to raise awareness of their products. Fashion brand Vitaly ran a mobile-only campaign using dynamic ads to retarget customers who had expressed an interest in certain products but had not bought them.

The campaign allowed Vitaly to reach more than 243,000 people and achieve a 3.9x return on advertising spend, according to Instagram.

Instagram is not the only social media site to build relationships with businesses. Facebook, Twitter, Snap and other sites all have worked to build their capabilities with retailers and other businesses that have used the sites to launch new products, to provide customer service, and to seek feedback on company policies, among other things.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.