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Are Retailers Ready for the Omni-Channel Revolution?

Brands are starting to realise that the key to success is to think like their customers and create seamless omni-channel shopping experiences that keeps customers engaged at all stages as they drift from phone, tablet, laptop and desktop PC without even giving it a second thought.

Every year there is a new industry buzzword which has previously consisted of offerings such as the Internet of Things, Big Data or Dark Social for example, but the majority of consumers are unaware that the hottest trend in retail at the moment is a strategy known as “omnichannel” and in simple terms just means giving customers the ability to shop anywhere and receive goods in the quickest most convenient way possible.

A few years ago, there was a concern that frugal shoppers and the art of “showrooming” would spell the end of the high street where consumers would test an item in a physical store, obtain advice and then leave to buy cheaper online.

However, the current trend of “webrooming” is the complete opposite, as customers are researching items online and then purchasing them in-store, thus the best method of retailers taking advantage of this is via omni-channel marketing.

This strategy is affecting all savvy businesses that not only see’s bricks and mortar stores increasing their online and social presence but much more interesting to see behemoths such as Amazon opening their first physical store which has coined the cringe-worthy phrase ‘digical’ (digital first and physical second)

Amazon is also reportedly in discussions to buy hundreds of retail stores across the US to showcase its products, such as the Kindle tablet and Fire smartphone, and act as delivery points for online orders.

Walmart President and CEO Michael T. Duke was clearly ahead of the curve when he advised shareholders in their annual report back in 2013 that “By bringing together best-in-class online, mobile and social capabilities and our over 10,700 stores, we are building what no other retailer – online or otherwise – can,” (more…)

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Rise of the Multilingual Robots

February is proving to be an interesting month as far as technology announcements go, first of all there was the news of a Japanese bank intending on using robot workers to deal with customers in banks, which could give a whole new meaning to the phrase “the computer says no” when applying for a loan.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting story of how California will allow the testing ofautonomous vehicles on public roads this year which suggests the world of automation is upon us much sooner than many realise.

However, in other news there is a 72-room hotel in Nagasaki, Japan that will open in July and will be staffed by robots who will not only greet guests, but also clean rooms and carry luggage, whilst the Japan Times reported that Hideo Sawada proudly stated “We will make the most efficient hotel in the world

Suddenly the worlds that we saw in movies such as Westworld and Total Recall, could now become a part of our reality here in 2015 as humanoid robots known as Actroid’s step into the world of hospitality, but thankfully there is no mention of the T-1000 or Ed 209 making an appearance just yet.

The hotel is named Henn-na Hotel which depending on your Japenese translation or sense of irony, could mean Strange or Change Hotel. This where things begin to get a little creepy, as the robots will look almost human be able to greet guests in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English.

In the future, we’d like to have more than 90 percent of hotel services operated by robots

Randomly you will be able to find the hotel inside a Nagasaki theme park called Huis Ten Bosch that just happens to be modelled to look like Holland and rooms will cost as little as $60 a night, but they also have strong ambitions for this new phenomenon to spread around the world with plans to build an additional 1,000 similar hotels worldwide

Actroids have been developed by Osaka University and manufactured by Kokoro, but are incredibly lifelike and understand hand gestures, eye movements and also use facial-recognition technology, but they are not quite ready to understand your poor jokes just yet.

These recent announcements will no doubt fuel various conspiracy theories about how our future world will be run by androids which will leave most of the human population out of work, not to mention the inevitable moment where they become self-aware.

The reality is that there is already a hotel called Yotel in New York that not only has a self-check-in kiosk’s but also features world’s first hotel robotic luggage handler, so we shouldn’t be too surprised at how technology is evolving at a breath-taking speed.

Even if you think a world of robots with jerky movements that look a little sinister are nothing but a gimmick, you can guarantee you will be hearing much more about this new form of hospitality as the summer approaches.

Are life like robots a step to far or is it something you find quite exciting? Is this the moment all those science fiction movies have prepared us for?

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Has Serial Started a Podcast Revolution?

The daily commute often entails encounters with the unavoidable characters that put their bags on seats, shout down their phones or even the infamous noise leakage that plagues headphones of all varieties as your fellow passenger seem to have a distinct lack of self-awareness which could easily cause irritation if you were to allow it.

However, your body might have to be stuck on that rush hour train but your mind can be transported anywhere that you wish, you could be more productive by answering emails before you arrive in the office, but recently I found myself with a much more exciting proposition that involved sharpening my detective skills to help solve a murder case from back in Baltimore County in 1999.

Although I’m a little late to the party, many of you reading this will know that I am talking about a podcast called Serial which is a spin-off from This American Life that became the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads back in November.

The show is hosted by Sarah Koenig and focusses on the murder of a high school student Hae Min Lee and her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed who was charged and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years, but has always protested his innocence.

Although a simple idea, the podcast has captured the imaginations of people all over the world as each episode reveals more information surrounding the murder case and as a listener, you find your opinion veers between different verdicts as witnesses contradict each other, but it is equally testament to the structure of the storytelling which often feels like a real life version of the HBO show True Detective.

Commuters turned into amateur crime sleuths and also flocked in their droves toReddit to discuss the case and even post photos from the crime scene to help others, leaving some on the ball marketers to ask the questions about the need for a podcast strategy.

We may have fond memories of the term ‘Podcast’ from 10 years ago before the days of cutting the cord and when an iPod was the must have gadget but the masses never really embraced podcasting as much as I had hoped.

However, over the years there has been a steady increase of how we consume material and Podcasts have been steadily increasing under the radar of the mainstream press, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised that a big hit has arrived and opened everyone’s eyes as it hit the mainstream.

The prospect of using a real life case as entertainment might be too macabre for some, but there is no denying that this global phenomenon is revolutionising the medium of the humble podcast and how it is being used for a growing audience who have been binge listening to this audio series in the same way they would a TV show box-set such as The Wire.

Even though, the series finished in December, word of mouth continues to ensure that there are daily stories from various news outlets speaking of alibis, reopening of the case, movie adaptations and even memorabilia.

With years on the outskirts, it seem that Serial and it’s 20 million plus listeners have transported Podcasts into the mainstream and the same people that were telling everyone they need to watch Breaking Bad are now listening to an audio show that blends both the old and new methods of storytelling together.

Tech and media journalist Simon Owens recently interviewed both Audible and Penguin Random House and discussed the effect the current podcast boom is having on audiobooks. They agreed that both audiobooks and podcasts are benefiting from an audio explosion and that both mediums are expanding the market for each other:

Ironically the technology that empowers people all over the world to enjoy a modern way of working is also allowing a whole new generation to enjoy a renaissance of storytelling that was loved by our grandparents.

As listeners are left obsessing over whether Adnan Syed is guilty or not, it seems that dinner parties and water coolers all over the world will be frequented by people asking the question Who killed Hae Min Lee?

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Introducing Continual Service Improvement

Continual Service Improvement (CSI) is arguably the most important phase within ITIL, however IT departments seldom put anything in place to reap the benefits that the discipline can offer, opting to continue on the reactive hamster wheel of fire-fighting regardless.

The cornerstone of any IT department will involve a strong focus on their Service Desk with an emphasis on project, incident and change management whilst your existing processes and technology quickly stagnate leaving the familiar world of re-active chaos that most have had some experience with.

CSI is very much a journey rather than a destination but relatively easy and inexpensive to implement by immediately monitoring and improving every aspect of what your traditional IT department offers its customers.

Whether it be improving existing processes, services or overall efficiency of the IT department, it shouldn’t take too long until you see visible and measurable results that can be felt both in and outside of IT that will ultimately allow your business the ability to react to change rapidly.

My personal CSI journey began with an identification process that reached out to people across the whole IT team to voice their biggest frustrations by adding ideas for improvement to a ‘CSI Register’ that allowed users to focus on where we are now and the future state that their improvement idea could offer by also advising what critical success factors and KPI’s they would benefit.

(more…)

Martin Lewis Run Challenge 2014

Martin Lewis Run Challenge 2014 Completed

When we celebrated the arrival of 2014, you could hear the familiar cries of ‘New Year, new me’ as everyone told their nearest and dearest their resolutions or goals for the 12 months ahead. I usually scoff at these suggestions that are usually long forgotten by March because you are what you are right?

However after eating too much food, over indulging on a beer whilst watching bad TV, even I knew that I needed something to aim for to get me back into shape. Step forward Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis who asked his readers “Join my run challenge: How far can you go in 2014?” and laid down a simply challenge to run a total of 700km (434 miles) in 2014.

Like any geek, I made some quick calculations of how many miles that I would need to run in order to reach the target and quickly arrived at the conclusion that it would be a piece of cake so signed up immediately with great conviction. (more…)

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Boyhood – Create Your Own Beatles Black Album

I recently got around to watching Richard Linklater’s brilliant movie Boyhood which was shot over the course of 12 years and follows its protagonist, Mason Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane), as he grows up.

On the characters 15th birthday he receives a mix CD from his father, Mason Sr., played by Ethan Hawke. Called The Black Album, it’s a compilation of the best of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s solo work, post-Beatles.

Mason,

I wanted to give you something for your birthday that money couldn’t buy, something that only a father could give a son, like a family heirloom. This is the best I could do. Apologies in advance.

I present to you: THE BEATLES’ BLACK ALBUM.

The only work I’ve ever been a part of that I feel any sense of pride for involves something born in a spirit of collaboration — not my idea or his or her idea, but some unforeseeable magic that happens in creativity when energies collide.

This is the best of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s solo work, post-BEATLES. Basically I’ve put the band back together for you. There’s this thing that happens when you listen to too much of the solo stuff separately — too much Lennon: suddenly there’s a little too much self-involvement in the room; too much Paul and it can become sentimental — let’s face it, borderline goofy; too much George: I mean, we all have our spiritual side but it’s only interesting for about six minutes, ya know? Ringo: He’s funny, irreverent, and cool, but he can’t sing — he had a bunch of hits in the ’70s (even more than Lennon) but you aren’t gonna go home and crank up a Ringo Starr album start to finish, you’re just not gonna do that. When you mix up their work, though, when you put them side by side and let them flow — they elevate each other, and you start to hear it: T H E B E A T L E S.

Just listen to the whole CD, OK?

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The Black Album you see on screen actually originated as a real gift from Hawke to his oldest daughter Maya when he split from Uma Thurman.

Hawke then slightly tweaked the notes whilst he was working on Boyhood and you cannot deny the power of the heart-wrenching reflection on how love does not last forever. (more…)

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Woodfordes Micro Brewery Home Brew Starter Pack

Maybe it’s an age thing but I suddenly woke up one morning with a strong urge to tick brewing my own beer off my bucket list. I’m not sure if this was partly inspired by Hank Schrader brewing his “Schraderbrau” in the TV show Breaking Bad but I know what I wanted to do but not sure what I needed to get started.

After turning to Google for help, I ended up feeling even more baffled as I read about a world full of pressure barrels, CO2 bulbs, syphon tubes, sediment traps and fermentation buckets but I quickly realised that it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds, so thought I would buy one of the starter packs and document how I get on.

There are a number of starter packs out there, but most of the beer kits that have caught my eye are to make 40 pints, so I needed to ensure that I paid a little more and get a fermentation vessel that holds at least 23 litres. (This is essentially just a bucket for the initial brewing process)

Another problem I had been arguing with myself about was the age old choice of bottles vs keg, the idea of individually transferring beer into 40 different bottles seemed a little cumbersome for someone like me, not to mention the potential grief from my other half of introducing a giant bucket and 40 bottles into our humble home but equally you can’t get a keg in the fridge for an ice cold beer.

As we are heading into the winter, I thought my ideal introduction in to home brew would be the highly rated Woodforde’s Wherry so I naturally opted for their ultimate Micro Brewery start-up kit that would contain everything I need to make 40 pints.

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Future beer kits cost around £20, so after the first batch, you are looking at only 50 pence a pint which makes my new hobby sound even more appealing, but right now the plan is to simply have 40 pints ready to drink in only 3-4weeks. (more…)

Smartphones: Does Size Matter?

I am old old enough to remember a time without the ubiquitous mobile phone and laughing at 80’s yuppies who thought they were Gordon Gekko strutting around with a huge phone that resembled something you would expect the military to use in an old war movie.

By the time they reached the masses, it wasn’t long before the palm sized mobile phones such as the Motorola’s RAZR had taken hold of our lives and anything bigger than a Nokia 3210 was officially labelled a brick.

Back in more innocent times, everyone wanted the smallest phone possible and the biggest social faux pax would be to bring out a bulky mobile phone in public which is somewhat ironic considering that 8 years later the world is about to get very excited about smart phones with larger screens than ever before.

Apple fanboys have remained loyal to their favourite brand but have been guilty of looking at other phones with a certain amount of hidden envy at the much larger screens which is just of the reasons we are expecting Apple to reveal their latest phone will come with a whopping 4.7 and 5.5-inch screen.

As phones get bigger, we should see longer lasting batteries which is a problem that has plagued Apple for a few years now, so much so that Samsung recently posted a cheeky video calling Apple users ‘Wall Huggers’ for their constant search power to charge their device.

Again there is a certain amount of irony that you could take an old Nokia phone to a music festival and enjoy 3 days of texts and calls without worrying about charging where as smart phone users are busy at the queue and charge tents, but it’s important to remember that our favourite devices have been so much more than a phone for over 5 years now.

September 2014 will be the moment that the mobile landscape dramatically changes forever and the word Phablet is no longer scoffed at and ridiculed as the iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and a predicted new selection from Motorola that will be fighting their way onto everybody’s Christmas list to satisfy our thirst for bigger screens. (more…)

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The Quantified Self: Can Technology Really Measure Your Life?

Over the next few weeks, we will be bombarded with news about the latest smart watches with the Moto 360 and highly anticipated iWatch about to be unleashed on our world that is quickly filled with wearable tech.

I have already talked about the Internet of Things (IoT) but the introduction of more smart watches will also see an increase in the use of more buzzwords such as the ‘quantified self’ which may leave you scratching your heads feeling a little confused and not wanting to speak up through fear of sounding like a technophobe, but equally becoming increasingly curious on what everyone is talking about it.

The Quantified Self (QS) in simple terms is using technology to track measure and analyse data from your daily life. We are already seeing an increase of this activity through apps that manage how many calories we intake, exercises we perform and even how many hours sleep we get each night using wearable sensors.

QS Is also known as self-tracking, auto-analytics, body hacking and life logging as more and more realise they are victims of their self-imposed bad habits or routines and can use their own daily data to motivate themselves to hit the road to self-improvement.

99 Percent of the thoughts, actions and emotions you have everyday are the same as the ones you had yesterday – Eben Page

The range of apps now at our disposal sometimes drifts in the realms of what we would have called sci-fi a few years ago as sites such as 23 and me can now provide a full DNA report that could reveal your ancestry or what diseases you could be predisposed of which is a fantastic concept, but the movie buff inside me is paranoid about the questions surrounding genetic discrimination that were raised in the 1997 film Gattaca. (more…)

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Twitter Changes Causing Backlash

Twitter has upset many of its users recently by confirming that Tweets from people that you do not follow will begin to appear on your personal timeline causing somewhat of a backlash online due to the changes to the ‘favourite’ button on the popular social network.

The move has baffled many users who are already turning away from sites like Facebook due to the lack of control on their own timeline that has quickly become irrelevant after being bombarded with one too many adverts, but many felt that Twitter offered an alternative edgier experience.

Twitter was built on a reputation of being a network where you can customise your timeline so the only material you see is relevant, but it seems that the powers that be are eager to introduce change and ensure the platform continues to grow and evolve.

The confirmation was reported by the Guardian newspaper and Twitter posted What’s a Twitter Timeline? Reading between the lines, the most revealing section advised:

Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don’t follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting.

Users resistance to change has long plagued social media sites such as Facebook and the all familiar backlash has turned into a joke over the years due to the the same people who complained about the previous improvements can often be seen 12 months later, campaigning to keep the same same changes they originally hated, but this Twitter story is different as it appears they do not understand how people use their own service.

The Twitter favourite button for example has many different uses, many users will use the button as a sort of bookmark tool so they can save something of interest to refer back to whilst also use it to acknowledge a comment at the end of a conversation. (more…)