Technology

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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.

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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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4 Ways To Remain Employable After The Rise Of The Robots

Once upon a time, life was much simpler and as soon as you were armed with an education, you were unleashed into the world and free to choose from a profession of your choice, you could stay in the same role for 30 years and then take a nice early retirement package, or so the fairy-tale goes.

However life now is very different and even if you have just reached your 40 birthday, the reality is that you will probably have to work at least another 30 years without the security blanket of a “Job for life” but in many ways this will make you a much more rounded individual with a toolbox full of unique skillsets that will ensure you tackle any situation.

Unemployment is never a nice topic to discuss but job seekers could be facing their toughest challenge yet in the near future with the predicted rise of the robots.

Before you scoff and shout at the screen that this is nothing but a bunch of sci-fi nonsense, take a look at the Oxford Martin School study that suggests nearly half of US jobs could be at risk of computerisation in the future.

However to be honest, we have all seen this coming as the not so glamourous and time consuming tasks are already becoming automated in our own work places and we probably all know someone that has been affected by these changes.

A quick look at hotel called Yotel in New York not only has a self-check-in kiosk’s but also features world’s first hotel robotic luggage handler.

Whatever your views on the controversial subject, we can all agree that if your reality is spending the next 50 years in the workplace, you need to invest in yourself and ensure you adapt and change to the world around you, so let’s take a look how you can help yourself prepare for the future dominated by robots and automation.

1. Embrace Technology

The cold hard truth is the grumpy technophobe has a rocky road ahead of them, unless they change their ways and embrace the technology that surrounds us all, make no mistake life will become increasingly more difficult.

Although we don’t all like to admit it, we are ruled by technology as we become increasingly reliant on our internet connection, even your humble kitchen appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators and even vacuum cleaners are now coming with Wi-Fi options, whilst your infant child knows their way around an iPad perfectly so it’s time to raise your game. (more…)

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The Digital Subscription vs. Ownership Debate

The big success story sweeping the digital landscape is the infamous Netflix business model, which has unwittingly created a long line of copycats who are desperate to imitate their rapid ascent to success in the modern world.

Recently the videogame publisher EA announced plans to offer their own subscription service called ‘EA Access’ in a collaborative effort with Microsoft and the Xbox One console. With many games retailing at $70 each, the allure of having access to a vault full of EA games for $29.99 a year sounds like a very tempting offer on the surface, but could also prompt other publishers such as Ubisoft to follow suit.

However the announcement was received by mixed reactions as many people are coming to the realisation that the average person on the street, no longer owns anything at all in the digital world that continues to move forward, whilst physical media is dying at an accelerated speed.

Shelves that used to contain video cassettes of movies, were replaced with DVD’s, followed by Blu-Ray discs before finally being replaced by all you can eat subscription services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The music industry has also changed dramatically, and despite hard-core music fans keeping vinyl alive, the reality is more and more people are turning away from purchasing or even downloading illegal music in favour of services such as Spotify where you can think of an artist or song at any moment depending on your mood at the time and listen within a few seconds.

Books are safe though right? Step forward the Kindle Unlimited that not only removes the physical book from our lives but Amazon’s latest Netflix style venture intends to remove ownership of a book too and lets you have access to an entire library at your disposal for $9.99 a month. (more…)

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Social Wi-Fi Customers Stay Longer and Spend More

The battleground of the ubiquitous free Wi-Fi is heading for an interesting transitional period, in one corner we have the customer who expects a constant internet connection wherever they are, they really don’t care how difficult or expensive this is to deliver and why should they?

However in the other corner there are the businesses that have to invest heavily to ensure their customers have a positive experience.

There needs to be a compromise in which both parties can be happy with the outcome and early indications seem to suggest that the up and coming trend of ‘Social Wi-Fi’ might just have a very bright future.

The concept behind social Wi-Fi is that business will invest heavily into providing an internet connection for their customers and in return they must sign-in via their chosen social network website such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, or by completing a form. In doing so they are able to capture details of their customers and promote your business to their online friends.

This opens up many possibilities for store owners and here in the UK, Purple Wi-Fi are leading the way with their that purple portal that gives their users access to its presence analytics, this allows businesses to understand who is visiting and using their hotspot, how long they are online, as well as their age, gender and any other relevant information that they offer in their social networking profile. (more…)

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Rank Hotel Searches By Wi-Fi Quality

Booking hotels has always been somewhat of a mine field and in many ways it has become an even more complicated experience thanks to sites such as Trip Advisor, where you end up scrolling through hundreds of reviews and taking more notice of the 5 negative reviews than the 200 positive posts, trying desperately to work out if they are written by difficult or unreasonable people that sit in their room complaining rather than enjoying the location itself.

What are your requirements when booking a hotel? Location, hotel rating, hair dryer, coffee making facilities, mini bar, breakfast, gym, swimming pool or some nice little bottles of toiletries in the bathroom? Our online addiction has ensured there is new front runner of what we expect from our hotel of choice and I am of course referring to the “Wi-Fi” preferably of the free variety.

However, anyone that has taken advantage of the infamous free Wi-Fi will have been burned by establishments who have heavily throttled their network which results in a frustrating experience if you are trying to view a video on You Tube or movie on Netflix only to constantly see the words buffering as you feel the rage within building like Bruce Banner.

Although we all like to embrace a form of digital detox when away from our daily routine, the truth is technology is now ingrained into everything that we do and take an online connection for granted, to suddenly find yourself in a hotel room cut off from everything you know can be a disheartening experience.

Step forward Hotel Wi-Fi Test who encourages its users to test the Wi-Fi of hotels and record the results along with the location to its growing database allowing future guests to see just how good or bad an internet connection actually is

The site can automatically remove any hotel offering under 2Mbps to give you confidence that uploading your photos or streaming of video will remain unaffected during your stay.

We’ve heard your cry for fast and reliable hotel Wi-Fi and decided to motivate hotels to step up their game. We believe we can get hotels worldwide to re-evaluate their Wi-Fi service, and make improvements that will provide guests with the quality service they expect from the moment they make their reservation.

Our mobile devices can typically achieve average speeds of around 1.7Mb on 3G, depending on the strength of the signal, so most would expect this kind of speed as standard and struggle to see the relevance of connecting to a free Wi-Fi service offering a throttled 1Mb connection that ultimately ends in a negative experience. (more…)