I have recently spent a week at the annual TIBCO user conference in Las Vegas. This is an annual opportunity to catch up with what is happening in the world in terms of how businesses are using technology to both more effectively manage their operations as well as utilise technology for more active client engagement and customer experience management.
TIBCO is an interesting company as it heritage is that of the provision of technology infrastructure to assist in providing the “foundations and plumbing” to companies to build business applications. This focus in the past has, therefore, been very much on technology that performs well, allows for easy integration and is optimised to support operational and execution needs. What struck me at this year’s conference was the large shift in focus to customer engagement. There were a number of presentations on how organisations are using technology to both retain and engage customers. The four key themes that I took from the conference were:
- The Real time connected world
- Fuzzy boundaries
- Maths trumping science
- Organising enterprises for experience management
The Real Time Connected World
There is no massive insight into the fact that the world is becoming more connected. In my flight from Las Vegas, I was able to make use of the WiFi service in the air which meant that the 4 hours were a lot more productive. Importantly the cost was hardly prohibitive at $10. A keynote speaker at the conference was Paul Jacobs, the CEO of Qualcomm. Qualcomm is the company that provides much of the technology that power modern day smart phones. It was fascinating to hear the rate at which the sensors in phones are evolving. People have emphasised the fact that computing power in the pocket is increasing. Given that we have more than enough computing power to deal with basic functions, the focus is now moving to that of putting more power into the sensors in the phone. This includes more powerful abilities to do image processing (including allowing for real-time 3D image processing), thus enabling augmented reality and allowing the phone to have virtual characters interacting with real world objects. This has amazing application in the world of retail where more and more individuals are using their phones in the retail environment, researching online and using the phones in stores. There is a particular focus on the inclusion of medical monitoring technology. A quick visit to Best Buy showed me the extent to which this is becoming a focus from iPhone enabled scales to the Jawbone device to track your walking and sleeping patterns. The talk by Bill Martin, CIO of Royal Caribbean Cruises spoke about their massive focus on increasing the bandwidth on their ships. The standard question that they get from customers and more importantly the children of their customers is “will we be connected” and they have responded appropriately. In addition, there is a strong focus on integrating the systems of Royal Caribbean to have a much better ability to engage customers before, during and after the trip.
And what does all this mean in the world of customer engagement? The answer lies in context. Context is a critical input in the ability to meaningfully engage a customer. Without context, any customer engagement is just a broadcast and broadcasts are quickly becoming a relic of the past. Given TIBCO’s heritage in real-time trading, their technology is ideally positioned to be used to engage with customers on a real time basis. This is seen all over TIBCO’s product from the acquisition of Streambase for real time event stream management through to the Spotfire realtime analytics suite. Either by design or simple luck, TIBCO are ideally positioned to provide the technology necessary to power the infrastructure of customer experience.
The boundaries of organisations are rapidly becoming less well defined. A classic example of this was demonstrated by Mitchell Habib, COO of Nielsen. Nielsen is the worldwide leader in the compilation of statistics for monitoring product exposure and the consumption of media, particular television. Nielsen has historically been very much a closed organisation but it recently took the bold step of opening up access to its proprietary data to developers. It is now possible to develop applications that leverage off the years of data that Nielsen has available. There is naturally a very careful management of the API interface into this environment (managed by TIBCO technology), but the biggest enabler is a point of departure from traditional thinking that all organisations should keep their information locked up and away from the rest of the world. Another example of this open world at work is the release of the latest release of the Spotfire product set. Historically Spotfire has included a proprietary statistics engine, S+, which TIBCO developed. However, what is happening in universities all over the world is that students are being trained on “R”. R is the language of choice for statisticians, being a very power language for statistical manipulation. TIBCO have embraced this trend with an interesting twist. They have released an R engine – TERR “TIBCO Enterprise Runtime for R” that uses all of the syntax of R but overcomes a lot of the problems with R in that the language is typically very slow to run and therefore does not do real-time predictive analytics. TERR overcomes this constraint by using the standard R language but with the performance and security of the enterprise.
The blurring of boundaries does not stop there. A recent start-up, Kaggle has been setup with the explicit purpose of allowing organisations to source, through an online market, the skills of high skills mathematicians. Sights of this nature are now commonplace in the work of coding but it is interesting to see how this trend is happening in the statistics and analytics space.
Maths Trumping Science
The CEO of TIBCO, Vivek Ranedive spoke at length of “Maths Trumping Science”. This notion is that, with the increasing size of datasets, the need for understanding causation decreases and thus more reliance can be placed on correlation. Many of the TIBCO products are orientated to the collection and manipulation of data. At the centre of the analysis, sits TIBCO Spotfire, arguably the leading analytics tool available today, and without doubt the leading visual analytics tool. There was a fascinating discussion by Andre Claster who was the chief analytics officer for the Obama campaign. Obama’s most recent campaign had more than 50 people on the team including a gambler and a Bayesian mathematician. The team was employed during the campaign to monitor and manage voters. Not unlike any “for profit” organisation, the US presidential campaign is a large and complex project. The team supporting the campaign instilled a discipline to monitor every possible aspect of Obama’s campaign. Analytics was applied in many areas, including having a supporter’s database, making use of public records to assist with understanding market coverage and likely outcomes and monitoring the effectiveness of every aspect of the campaign. Every rally, every meeting, every message communicated was carefully monitored, the results assessed and adjustments made to ensure increased effectiveness. Before thinking that data analytics and predictive analyses is not for your business consider the case study of predictive analytics being used to predict the likelihood of success in the adoption of children by foster families. This approach resulted in a marked increase in the success rates of the integration of children with the chosen foster families.
What is equally evident is that while the amount of data in the world is increasing at a rapid rate, and the tools to support that expansion are being developed, it is also clear that the rate of supply of data scientists will not keep up. In light of this trend, the launch of Kaggle mentioned above is very appropriate.
Organising and designing for experience management
The last theme that was evident was that of organising enterprises to be able to respond to the needs of customer experience management. The examples were numerous. This first was a talk by Tobias Lehtipalo who is the product development manager for Spotfire. For those of you that have used Spotfire, you will know that there has been a strong emphasis on developing a tool that is powerful but at the same time incredibly easy to use. Tobias spoke about how the design team is organised to achieve this objective. There is an entire team whose focus it is to observe how customers engage with the product and go about their daily tasks to meet their business objectives. Tobias provided a simple but powerful framework for ensuring that the product development teams its objectives. The first stage is to start with observation, seeing how customers use the product. The next step in the process is to then design the experience using insights, intuition and expertise. This is followed by an evaluation phase to see if the design had achieved the desired objectives. The final stage is to ship the product and to listen to the results from the market. This framework is highly applicable to any business that is actively driving customer experience.
Another area of development that was interesting was within TIBBR, the TIBCO enterprise social media tool. I was amazed to learn that TIBBR is now serving in excess of 6.5 million end users. That is 6.5 million customers that are using TIBBR on a daily basis to co-ordinate, share, collaborate and manage tasks within the organisation. The subtext was the ease of use that has been achieved within TIBBR. The product truly meets the objective of both being enterprise strength and at the same time, being very intuitive to use. It is this combination that has led to the success that has been achieved in the market with this tool.
The world of customer experience management and engagement is evolving at a rapid rate. Like many disciplines, practices start with a very manual process of hand crafting customer interventions, and changing the focus of staff in their interactions with customers. While the importance of this aspect should not be negated, it is equally important to recognise that sophisticated customer experience engagement depends on technologies that can establish customer context, collect data both structured and unstructured, analyse the data and all of the above needs to be achieved in real-time. inQuba has built its product set, inQuba VoC, inQuba Engage, inQuba Wired, inQuba Social Media and inQuba Active using TIBCO as a core technology. Again, either by luck or good design, this means that the inQuba product sets are able to scale, expand and extend into the future needs of customer engagement. In short the TUCON conference confirmed that inQuba’s approach and vision to customer engagement is synchronously aligned to the global thought leaders in the space. Now that’s Real-time!