Transforming what’s possible in media & entertainment with AI

September 12, 2019
AI

Artificial Intelligence has gone from the pages of science fiction to “all around you” like Dolby Surround Sound rather menacingly informs you at the start of every movie. Conversations that might have sounded ridiculous even five or ten years ago are commonplace now. The days of associating AI with humanoid Asimov-type robots are over: from healthcare to shopping to finance, AI is everywhere.

Conversational AI has quietly changed the game for customer service and what companies can achieve with digital interfaces. Chatbots are ubiquitous – in banking, online shopping, food delivery – but we don’t necessarily register their presence. The idea, after all, with these intelligent robotic helpers, is that they should make the experience as natural as possible. With advancements in Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, and advanced Text-to-Speech, we should be able to achieve conversation so natural, so smooth, that we don’t miss human customer service agents.

It is an exciting time for AI in the media and entertainment space. Virtual reality is pushing the boundaries of world-building and immersive gaming experiences. A few years ago, IBM’s Watson stitched together the movie trailer for the horror movie Morgan, the first to be entirely created by AI. Now, Netflix changes its thumbnails to cater to each viewer, refining what is displayed based on the content being consumed. Like romance? You’ll most likely see couples laughing or looking at each other. Prefer action? You’ll see fighting or a character in action, running or jumping. Individual hero’s journeys? Noble, solitary figures. Heartwarming dramas? Families laughing together.

But while the algorithms of streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu are advanced and always evolving, they are rather blinkered. In attempting to “predict the unpredictable” – people’s preferences – they rely overwhelmingly on the history of what people have consumed, i.e., on past watches. Overly preoccupied in this way with analyzing past behavior, they keep returning similar predictions. People, though, have diverse preferences and varying moods. They don’t always want to consume the same kind of content and don’t always like the same genre or the same content creators. They tire of being offered the same fare over and over.

Imagine this: on a quiet Saturday evening, you sit down with your partner to watch a movie or a good TV show. It’s been a hectic week, and you look forward to kicking back with your loved one. But after what feels like hours of back and forth, despite your multiple subscriptions and the veritable cornucopia on offer, you still haven’t been able to pick one that you’re both in the mood to watch. Eventually, you just give up and pick something you’ve already watched a thousand times.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Somehow, with unprecedented access to content in this “golden age of television” and streaming services, ‘what to watch’ has become a common conundrum. In Disney’s Jungle Book, the vultures with their Beatle-like mops of hair spend a few minutes volleying whatcha wanna dos and I don’t know, whatcha wanna dos back-and-forth. Today that conversation runs something like this:

“What do you wanna watch?”
“I don’t know, what do you wanna watch?”

The good news is that with advancements in Deep Learning and Cognitive AI, and rich media chat platforms, perceptive bots capable of picking up context cues and learning from conversation can now help you figure out what to watch (What are you in the mood for?). We now have the capability to develop an affable, intelligent bot with the sophistication and adaptability to help you narrow down your broad preferences.

If all you have is a vague preference for something funny, for instance, you can type in ‘funny movie.’ Our helpful bot will return a large variety of movies that can be classified as funny, ranging from mildly humorous to laugh-out-loud hilarious, from slapstick and romantic comedies to subtle black comedy and political satire. You’ll be able to peruse this wide selection and decide what appeals to you in the moment. Suppose that you decide you’d rather watch something a little dumb in the moment that doesn’t require too much thought; you can go ahead and type in, “slapstick.”

Our bot will return an assortment of slapstick from Chaplin-era classics like Modern Times to Jim Carrey’s unique brand of physical comedy and Nancy Meyer’s romantic comedies.

That’s it, you think. I’m in the mood for a nice, light Nancy Meyer movie.

You tell the bot “Nancy Meyer movies,” select one that looks good, and, happily, your usual conundrum is solved in just a couple of minutes.

Of course, the bot is capable of much more. It holds repositories in multiple languages and can show you a selection from more than one language if you are multi-lingual. It can show you recommendations and suggestions based on past choices, switch languages if you don’t prefer English, ask for clarification if it’s not sure what you’re looking for and learn from experience. It can grow with feedback, picking up vocabulary and understanding a larger number of requests every day, making and storing new connections, and constantly analyzing trends and conversation flows.

And the bot has a persona of her own! She’s a movie buff– err, bot– herself! She will quote dialogues to you, tease you a little and suggest that you try this particular fan favorite. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, she’ll suggest an alternative. She’ll even ask if you want to check out any of these movies that have been generating buzz, or if you want to give one of these Oscar contenders a shot. And she’ll try to broaden your horizons by suggesting different genres, edgy and experimental TV, and avant-garde movies. Like any good librarian, she’s not only here to help you find something that you’ll enjoy; she’s here to help you find something you didn’t even know you’d enjoy.

Nirvik Mitter
Nirvik Mitter
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Transform the air traveler experience

July 10, 2019
AI

Every business can benefit from improving customer experience and increasing employee productivity, but for industries affected by volatile external factors, this is especially essential. The airline industry faces unavoidable risk from the weather, fluctuating fuel costs, and geo-political events, among other external variables. But while these factors remain to a large extent outside their control, airlines often experience higher levels of customer dissatisfaction and decreased worker satisfaction and productivity as a result.

Customers, too, have changed. They’re fickle and swap providers without hesitation. There are several behavioral factors impacting airline customer loyalty today:

  • Frequent-flier programs have become more complex and spend-based. They lack differentiation, putting the loyalty of even the most frequent of frequent fliers at risk.
  • We live in an era in which mobile app engagement has become increasingly difficult. Users have become extremely selective about the apps they choose to download and keep on their phones.
  • The rise of messaging platforms and their growing capability for more sophisticated functions than just text, including visual cards and voice, has opened up a whole new medium for user engagement.

Research shows that airline companies are recognizing the mounting importance of improving digital interfaces. The market for AI in aviation is expected to reach $2.2 billion in 2025 And indeed, according to SITA’s Passenger IT Trends Survey 2017, nearly 90% of customers book their flights using self-service technologies. 64% of passengers check-in online and passenger satisfaction is significantly higher when baggage collection and tracking is automated.

In this climate, it has become vital to give customers the convenient, personalized digital experience they have come to expect across the board, from booking to in-flight entertainment to baggage tracking. In a hyper-competitive industry, airlines are scrambling to make the customer experience accessible, enjoyable and convenient. While the ability to predict and ameliorate the impact of external factors remains limited, it is imperative for airlines to focus on what they can control: the user experience.

The popularity of messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp provides a readymade user base for airlines. And with the sheer volume of users on these platforms today (Facebook Messenger has 1.3 billion users), it just makes sense to leverage that base. A chatbot on these platforms can provide all the functionality of a mobile app without the hassle of downloads or registration. Accessing and using a chatbot is as simple as adding a contact to the messaging platform.

A sophisticated, customizable chatbot can transform the user experience for every customer – be it the jet-setting frequent flier or the deal-seeking budget-conscious vacationer. With NLP and guided language flow, bots can be intuitive and easy-to-use. They can expedite anything from booking to check-in to baggage tracking and will proactively notify customers about the status of their flight, gate changes and pre-departure information. While booking a flight, results can be sorted by price, departure and arrival time, number of stops and duration of flight. Although this functionality is already available on mobile apps, a bot provides much-needed simplification and streamlining of access.

At PopcornApps, we believe in building innovative solutions that address a business objective or the pain point of an industry.

Our bot extends support across enterprise functions. It can help employees and ground staff with disruption management to alleviate long lines at counters. It can provide boarding assistance at gates and allow gate agents to respond promptly to queries about seat assignments and baggage check, while they focus on their core responsibility to turn around flights safely and efficiently at the gate. It can also send notifications to on-call staff, seek confirmations if they need additional staff, and offer live polling support for shift bidding.

Our bot also assists with customer support – FAQs (baggage allowance, tracking, insurance, routes, in-flight menu and entertainment), PNR management (reservation, changes and cancellation), Member and Frequent Flier queries, and case management. With its multilingual capabilities, it can also do this in Spanish! Or another language of your choosing.

We use the Microsoft Bot Framework, leveraging APIs and existing infrastructure, to create a versatile bot that can be deployed in multiple channels with minimal work. We’ve partnered with Amadeus, the Global Distribution System (GDS) services company that manages the passenger service systems of more than 200 airlines worldwide, and have a working prototype with Sabre, another significant GDS company. We can adapt our template to various platforms including Facebook Messenger, Skype, Cortana, Kik Messenger and web chat, as well as create custom apps.

We’ve already created highly successful chatbots for the UK Rail and Indian Railways (one of the largest railway systems in the world). With our partnerships, tech expertise, and understanding of the industry, we nimbly engineer custom solutions that are cost-effective yet top-of-line, efficient and uniquely suited to your organization.

Your perfect chatbot is just a click away.

Samvit Raina
Samvit Raina
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PopcornApps Recognized as a Leader by Clutch

May 13, 2019

At PopcornApps, we build customer and employee-focused solutions that span channel, function, product, and service in this always-on, connected world. We specialize in architecting an integrated enterprise and cater to ever-changing user behavior by implementing new interaction channels such as Conversational AI and evolving social media paradigms.

We are proud to announce that we are featured as one of the top CRM consultants on Clutch’s platform. Clutch is a ratings and reviews research firm for companies that provide marketing and digital services. They are based in Washington D.C. and conduct reviews for clients of the companies on their website and over the phone.

Our recognition stems from our superior reputation in the industry and consistent dedication to serving our client’s needs.

PopcornApps was also featured on Visual Objects, Clutch’s newest sister website. Visual Objects provides buyers with a centralized catalog of the work done by leading B2B companies from around the world. On this platform, we are recognized as one of the top app developers.

A special thank you to Clutch for this recognition and to our wonderful clients for choosing to work with PopcornApps!

Samvit Raina
Samvit Raina
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Salesforce Classic to Lightning is just a click away

October 25, 2017
Salesforce

Salesforce Classic was-is phenomenal. For several years now, the platform has powered customer success at several enterprises by enabling sales, service, and support experiences, both for customers and employees.

Nevertheless, Lightning has somehow managed to upstage its predecessor. The switch to Lightning has increased productivity for users by nearly 41%, according to the latest Lightning Adoption Survey. Sounds, unreal? Not if we look at how Lightning is actually helping those on the frontline.

Take, for instance, the fact that, sales reps at T-Mobile could reduce the number of clicks needed to create a pricing quote from 104 to 81. That’s massive and it stands testimony to the fact that Lightning does, in fact, help you close deals faster.

Lightning Experience or Lightning Platform?

While Salesforce Lightning offers plenty of reasons to migrate, the transition itself isn’t easy, which means users are looking for ‘shortcuts’. They do a partial migration with Lightning experience and defer a complete shift to the new platform for later.

Does it work? It does. But, only so much.

Clearly, the biggest challenge enterprises face is the confusion over migrating just to Lightning Experience or to a complete Lightning platform. By styling VisualForce(VF) pages with Lightning design system, the application renders Lightning experience, but the underlying architecture is not migrated to a Lightning platform. While this gives you a UI-UX akin to Lightning, most of the platform benefits are not realized.

Is a full migration needed?

By migrating to a Lightning platform, new core features are enabled. For instance, Lightning component framework and App builder let you build lightweight responsive applications in record time. Lightning data services feature can be used to access and share data across Lightning components. Some other features available only to platform users are Locker services – a Lightning security service, Lightning bolt – predefined portal templates and AppExchange listed Lightning components and 3rd-party applications.

Clearly, a complete shift to the Lightning platform can make a world of difference to your sales, support and service operations. But, this change may not be simple or easy. You’ll face a few challenges.

Lightning Migration Challenges

While Salesforce offers Lightning Readiness reports to guide the migration, a detailed study of the current configuration and customization would still be needed to ensure customizations are not lost in transition. For this, existing customizations need to be mapped against the Lightning framework and the ones that require re-work to convert the application to Lightning have to be identified.

Given these limitations, moving to Lightning typically takes one of two paths: converting existing VisualForce (VF) pages, components, and other objects with Lightning Design System (LDS) or re-creating new Lightning components and VF pages from scratch. Of course, neither is an appealing option and Salesforce admins are eagerly searching for a faster way to migrate and benefit from the entire Lightning platform while protecting their investment in customizing Classic.

So, what can ensure a smooth and seamless transition to Lightning? The right plan, tools coupled with the following best practices will do the trick.

Lightning Migration Best Practices

Salesforce to Lightning

1. BUILD A MIGRATION PLAN

Estimate your system’s readiness accurately. Some elements of your migration strategy will be determined by the version of Salesforce you are presently using. For instance, if you are on Enterprise edition or above, you can set role permissions and enable Lightning only for specific users. Doing so will create a group of test users who can test drive the new platform before everyone else dives in.

Before or after the readiness evaluation, you need to clearly set out the desired business outcomes and timelines expected from the transition. Set a realistic timeline that doesn’t disrupt operations or burden anyone.

In the process, re-evaluate all the customizations; rarely used features that are not contributing to the overall productivity of your users could be phased out.

2. DEVELOP AN IMPACT MAP

Luckily, Lightning allows a phased roll-out. To start with pick user profiles that are likely to benefit the most and have the lowest risk of adverse impacts. Once you have them identified, communicate the possible impacts to these test users clearly.

Next, you must prepare and share your migration plan across all your Salesforce users. To keep everyone informed and to enable collaboration, set up a chatter group. Here, users can share updates, experiences, blogs, and training resources on migration.

Now that you have a phased transition plan and all your Salesforce users are familiar with it, it’s time to test the waters. Doing a blind study with only select users will help identify UI roadblocks or technical challenges that migration might pose. All of this helps users adapt to the change better and ensures support for Lightning adoption doesn’t wane.

3. PARTNER WITH A MIGRATION EXPERT

Partnering with a migration expert can mitigate migration risks and help you chart out an ROI-based migration plan. List out consulting partners with demonstrated expertise in migration to mitigate risks.

For example, one of the biggest challenges faced in migrating to Lightning is the confusion over what will happen to the custom pages, buttons, links, and objects. PopcornApps addressed this problem by launching a unique solution that automates the Lightning conversion process – Flash.

Lightning Migration Easier

Flash automates conversion from Classic to Lightning platform thereby protecting existing VF pages, custom code, and features. With Flash, you can migrate custom elements like custom pages, buttons, and links to Lightning quickly and cost-effectively.

“The transition to Lightning may be complex. But it doesn’t have to be slow, costly, or disruptive.”

Choosing the right strategy, partner and tool will make it easy. To illustrate how big a difference the right choices can make, let’s assume you decide to use Flash in your migration. The move could fetch huge dividends, as Flash-enabled migration promises to be 60% cheaper and 70% faster than a manual conversion. To learn how Flash can enable a seamless Lightning migration, send your readiness report to flash@popcornapps.com for a free consultation.

If you are still unsure of how to execute Lightning migration, feel free to contact us at info@popcornapps.com We can assist you with any queries on your Lightning migration path including analysis, assessment, planning, and deployment.

See Flash in action

Girish Avantsa
Girish Avantsa
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The Future of Engaging Mobile Experiences #BotsThatBond

September 18, 2017
AI

Chatbots fulfill these customer expectations...

There’s been a lot of buzz around chatbots lately and it’s growing louder by the day.

We think, and the statistics back us on this, that strong business imperatives are driving this chatter around chatbots. You may already be familiar with some of these imperatives. Take this one for instance –

Your customers are millennials and they prefer using messengers and chats for most if not all their communication needs.

But, this fondness for chat isn’t the only thing driving enterprise adoption of chat bots. Changes in customer and employee behavior and expectations are playing a part too. To illustrate how, we pick a few stats that reflect customer expectations on support issues and show how chatbots are catering to these expectations:

Chatbots fulfill these customer expectations…

  1. They allow a business to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the year.
  2. They enable communication through messages and are delivered via popular messaging apps like Facebook messenger, Skype, Slack or just simply on a web portal.

Clearly, bots help you engage your customers in a manner they prefer. But that’s just one of the reasons why businesses are adding chatbots to their digital customer service mix. There are others.

Chatbots provide contextual, timely and up-to-date information to users (in a conversational style via chat). By providing the right information proactively or in response to a query, chatbots drive greater efficiency, engagement, and productivity amongst different user groups.

Sounds interesting? Let’s explore ways to actualize these impacts for your business by examining a few simple use cases:

#Impact 1: Better Customer Engagement

If an enterprise provided proactive and intelligent conversational experience to its customers, customer satisfaction is likely to increase. For e.g. wouldn’t it be nice for a customer to see proactive notification of a delay on her scheduled flight along with suggestions on alternative flights? And would it not be even better to see that notification around the time she leaves for the airport or before?

#Impact 2: Greater Efficiency

Accurate information should just be a message away. wouldn’t it be nice for a customer to simply ask “What is the status of my order?” and not only be provided with the current status but also be prompted to receive automatic future notifications as the order progresses through the supply chain?

Transport and Logistics giant UPS is using a (AI powered) chatbot to meet customers where they are. The bot allows UPS customers to track orders, get a shipping quote or find a UPS location.

#Impact 3: More Productivity

Employees often work through systems with cumbersome processes and navigation. Enhancing employee productivity not only helps an enterprise financially but productive workers are known to be happier workers. Examples for mundane yet important tasks that chatbots can help with: updating availability on a calendar could be as simple as messaging “I am available from 2 pm – 4pm on September 20.”

These are just a few simple examples. As technology matures and platforms bring more capability to forefront, bots can add more value to users and cater to solving more complex tasks.

Finally, it all boils down to this:

To Bot or Not?

Most of the world has shifted to mobile-first. As this trend progresses, audiences everywhere will start demanding more engaging mobile experiences. And businesses will need to launch a new-generation of products and/services that rely on Artificial Intelligence engines, cognitive services and improvements in NLP engines to cater to the demand!

So, do you have a request that should be a message away?

Anish Matthai
Anish Matthai
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The ART of the POSSIBLE with Salesforce Part-II

February 21, 2017
Salesforce

Re-inventing the art of Customer Service

My first experience with a call center operation was way back in 1999, working alongside with a supervisor trying to make sense of all the metrics that measure the performance of the call center.  Monitoring the LED displays of the calls in the queue, call routing, measuring average wait time, longest wait time, average handle time are some of the metrics that stuck with me for a long time. As I worked through the week, i gained a more  detailed understanding behind the numbers and what ‘drove’ the call center. Back in the day, customer service was mostly driven by inbound calls, 60% for new orders and the rest for support on exisiting services. The only ‘self-service’  available for callers is the IVR tree, which did nothing more than routing the calls to the right queue.

Fast forward to today, a call center deals with a lot more complexity while handling customer service issues. The complexity stems from few overwhelming trends that have shaped the expectations of the customers and thereby making customer satisfaction (CSAT) a challenging metric to keep up!

Calls have become interactions: Customers demand new channels and expect to be heard/served over these channels – It is imperative that a business engages on Facebook and Twitter amongst the many available and effectively use them as important customer access channels

CRM data is no longer ‘Internal’: Customers tweet, post and interact with a business outside of the traditional channels of web, voice and chat. The responsibility to collect and correlate this publicly available data to enrich CRM information rests solely with the business.

Omnichannel is expected: Customers want seamless experience across devices and channels. They may switch between their mobile app, web, social channel or talk to an agent and expect to pick up where they left off.

So how do you handle customer service in this new age where the expectation of service is “Always available”?

We used Salesforce.com Service Cloud as a foundation and integrated it to various systems to handle requests for billing, order management, provisioning, service issue etc. The key principle for this implementation was to provide ease of access to the customer, while providing the customer care agent all the required information to service the customer. The agents have full view of the customer – through internal CRM system, correlated external activity on social media channels, backend systems and any interactions conducted in self-service mode by the customer.

The system supports 3 different types of customer access channels:

1.    Some folks always want to speak to someone We obviously allowed for traditional voice – With CTI, voice calls are intelligently routed and the agents have a 360-degree view of the customer; thereby arming them with all the available information to provide effective customer service

2.    Some want to tweet – We integrated with Sprinklr, a social media tool and correlated information on Facebook and twitter to augment customer profile and thereby adequately address issues raised through these channels

3.    Some want self-service – Allow customers to engage through any channel of their choice – web, chat, email, mobile app etc. thereby providing a true omnichannel experience

The supervisors and the agents are still the most vital part of a good call center; their jobs however, have become more demanding. The statistics I saw on the LED board in 1999 still hold relevance but the measurement of those stats has become more complex. As a part of the project, the team created the Live Console. This serves as a dashboard for agents and supervisors giving them a real-time view of their workload. For agents, this dashboard give a view of Calls, Chats, Social media interactions, Open Cases, Customer Surveys whereas for supervisors it gives a similar real time view of their pod / group

The Predictive intelligence and smart tech enabled service.

As a move towards providing excellent customer service, we have augmented the above support channels with smart tech – using Bots and AI, we have enabled a ‘proactive’ service channel whereby certain customer service functions are available to customers over channels like Facebook messenger, Skype, website bots. Not only can these bots be invoked in a pull mode with the customer requesting information but they also provide proactive, timely and relevant support information to customers.

Fascinating how the tide has changed with times – I remember businesses forcing their customers towards complex IVR applications and now it is the customers who are forcing the business to adopt channels they feel comfortable with. Today, businesses are adopting and reinventing the ‘Art of Customer Service’ – just the way it has to be.

Girish Avantsa
Girish Avantsa
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The ART of the POSSIBLE with Salesforce Part-I

January 12, 2017
Salesforce

A core business function modernized using Salesforce at a Fortune 50 client

“Salesforce.com has come of age” No matter what statistic you look at, this statement remains true. The 1st Dreamforce event in 2003 brought together 1300 users and partners – this number was about 175,000 in 2016. There are almost 2 billion transactions conducted daily on the platform and the ecosystem boasts over 1.6 million developers.

As a Systems Integrator focusing on Salesforce.com implementations, we have a different perspective by which we judge Salesforce’s coming of age. We view it through a lens where the KPIs are: complexity of functionality, ease of integration, configuration flexibility, and customization tools available. Back in 2005/6, Salesforce.com started acquiring big name customers. We remember working on early implementations at GE and Coca Cola. In our view, these customers gave Salesforce.com a level of credibility and respect that made others in the Fortune-500 realm sit up and take notice of a company that was largely viewed as a provider of sales management software to SMBs.

Fast forward to today, Salesforce is ubiquitous and has almost become ‘fashionable’ in the industry. Dreamforce takes over the city of San Francisco for almost an entire week, and there are companies highlighting their solutions and products on one of the fastest growing enterprise software marketplace – AppExchange!

Many Salesforce.com customers however, are using the CRM product suite in a limited capacity. Some of this is due to the heavy legacy baggage these organizations carry and a lift and shift approach seems too ambitious; others however, are not fully bought into the level of complexity a Salesfore.com deployment can manage.

These others may benefit from a session highlighting the “Art of the Possible with Salesforce”. Sure, there is a lot of information available during Dreamforce and several events all through the year but sometimes what it takes to covert a skeptic is to show them a real deployment that is similar in scale and complexity to their business.

To highlight what is possible, let me tell you a little bit about a Salesforce.com project that we just went live with for one of our clients – a Fortune 50 tech giant!

We took a core business function – ‘Warranty Management’ and all that it encompasses – sub processes like Eligibility check, entitlements, RMA, fraud check, inventory management, dispatch, and depot/warehouse management and modernized it using Salesforce.com technology. Through the course of this project, we simplified the integration to various back end systems, retired several applications and optimized about a dozen business processes.

The entire function was modernized in a ‘lift and shift’ approach to move from SAP to Salesforce.com and a myriad of other applications, which were seamlessly integrated. The well-coordinated ‘go live’ was global across 11 call centers and handles 100,000 + transactions a month supporting over 30,000 warranty claims for consumer and business customers.

 

The call center agents went from a swivel chair process spanning 3 different applications to an integrated ‘one view’ of the customer and the associated warranty claim(s), thereby increasing productivity and accuracy of data by 20%.

Of course, customers also have 24X7 access to submit a claim on-line. The on-line process validates the claim request through product serial number check and any eligible claim has a case created and assigned to the appropriate agent pool and depot for managing the RMA process.

Such a project would have taken 16 – 18 months to implement with legacy or premise based applications – we took this from inception to deployment in 8 months!

Fancy replacing an aging CRM/ERP? Or, just want to know a bit more about ‘Art of the Possible with Salesforce’?

Girish Avantsa
Girish Avantsa
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The smartphone death march - Part 2

December 14, 2016
Enterprise Mobility

Last week, I was discussing the role of smartphones in emerging markets like Africa and parts of India with a group of analysts and colleagues. A debate ensued about the falling prices of competent smartphones. The group concluded that while the prices were low for someone in the US or Europe, there is a still a question of affordability for the masses in emerging markets. A majority of the internet users in these markets are those who have skipped the desktop/tethered internet phase and their use of the internet started with mobile internet. So, the compelling question in these markets becomes: “Can the smartphone in its future form be the one and only device you might need for both work and play? In other words, can a laptop/PC/Mac workspace be brought to the mobile in a seamless manner?”

Mobile-only internet use is not limited to emerging markets. Desktop internet usage has been seeing significant year-over-year drops. More than 20% of millennials have gone mobile only and >75% of adults use both desktop and mobile internet. (source: ComScore)

The desktop is dead! Long live the desktop…

To use a smartphone as the only computing device, the main limiting factors for an average professional (someone who does email, browses the internet, writes/reviews documents and spreadsheets, and uses built for purpose enterprise apps) are the following: Screen size, keyboard and capability to use an external display like a TV or a monitor. Sure, there are plenty of options for screen mirroring and media streaming available but those don’t cut it for day to day productive use in any workplace.

We have seen a few solutions emerge in the recent past. Apple, Google and Microsoft have all tried to woo enterprise / professional users to their platforms. Currently Google leads the smartphone market by a wide margin with Microsoft being a rounding error in overall numbers.

Regardless of large or small market shares, the current smartphone platforms do little to make the expensive smartphone the single compute device you will need.

Apple has Continuity – It is a useful tool provided you are exclusively in the Apple ecosystem – iOS and Mac. Continuity offers a bridge called “Handoff” to pass app activities back and forth between iOS and Mac devices. While, taking a call or texting from my MacBook may be useful at times when the iPhone is not nearby, there is limited value in using iOS apps on a Mac. It is far from the one compute device paradigm. Instead, it increases device sales and banks users ‘tied’ into the Apple ecosystem.

Google’s Android and its partners are not new players here. Back in 2011, Motorola came up with a revolutionary device called the Atrix – A 4in. Android phone which could be used somewhat like a laptop with a ‘lapdock’ accessory. This wasn’t a success given the cumbersome setup and still no access to popular office platforms / apps. Since then, things have changed for the better. You can now install Android apps on your Chromebook. However, the app installations will be different from that on your Android device and will need to ‘synced’ across the two devices. This has promise but still not an ideal solution to the single compute device. Google has a history of making quick decisions with product direction and it remains to be seen how mainstream this gets. As per some reports, Google is working on an Andromeda (Chrome and Android) hybrid which should hit the market sometime in 2017.

Continuum from Microsoft is a promising solution but alas for the Windows Mobile market share! The approach to Continuum is the Windows 10 everywhere vision which hopes to leverage what is called Universal Windows Platform based apps across a myriad of devices – PC, Windows Mobile, XBoX and Hololens. The feature is available on a handful of phones running windows 10 mobile. The phone plugs into a continuum dock – a 2in X 2in X 1in accessory that sports HDMI, USB and USB C ports. Once plugged in, the device can be used pretty much like a laptop. Native Microsoft apps like Office – Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc. work beautifully and orient themselves to take advantage of the external display. Furthermore, apps designed using the UWP work on a larger screen with layouts that enable use of more real estate. Some apps designed using UWP are Bank of America, UBER, Expedia, Dropbox, Instagram, Facebook, Flipkart and many others. While Continuum works, there are some serious limitations – the biggest one being the ability to run apps in a ‘Windowed’ environment. Apparently, Microsoft is working on this and will release this with an update to Window 10.

Time will tell how these platforms succeed and whether the average consumer spending between INR52,580.00 – INR78,870.00 on a smartphone will continue to be enamored with his/her ecosystem of choice or will they demand better bang for their buck and refuse to get sucked into buying a shiny new tablet, hybrid or a laptop. The demand is certainly there but thus far, none of the tech giants have enabled a vision.

Samvit Raina
Samvit Raina
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The smartphone death march - Part 1

Enterprise Mobility

The Smartphone death march – Part 1 – Where is the innovation?

The current smartphone battles are leading to a dead end or at least a major intersection – one where innovation takes a pause and waits for the ‘experience’ to catch up with all the firepower the hardware offers. The pace of change and the market expectations of new and improved versions will only lead to more ‘Note 7’ type debacles. After all, with all the features are gimmicks being packed in, the speed of change can only lead to mistakes or a disastrous quality oversight.

The latest iPhone clearly lacks any major innovative features and Apple’s statement that it “courage” to remove the headphone jack is ludicrous! Apple – Courage is what a soldier demonstrates at the battle front! A person who is defusing a live bomb is courageous – not your decision to replace the 3.5mm jack with the lighting port. It is a brilliant business move to sell more accessories and that is it!

With Google’s release of the Pixel duo, the tech giant is taking a fresh (to Google) “Apple-like” approach to devices – they own the hardware and the software on a Google branded device – sure the Nexus line was close but the Pixel line is different. The feature set, the hardware and the pricing is all premium and meant to compete with the iPhone and partners like Samsung, LG, Lenovo amongst others. While Android 7 does have some neat stuff to offer, I was disappointed to see that there was no originality in styling – it looks like an iPhone – perhaps like a future iPhone 8 – missing home button from current iPhone 7 line J. Furthermore, some of the features seem to be borrowed from other platforms. And how can it not be waterproof? Alas, the psychology of expectations – as a consumer, I have come to expect more!

It is about time that we call a smartphone just a phone (after all in major markets, the sale of feature phones is down to a trickle). Better yet, we could call it a mobile computing device. But that is a mouthful.

In 2015, a little over 2 Billion mobile phones were sold and about 65% of these devices were smartphones from manufacturers like Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi, Vivo, Huawei and others. China and India remain strong growth markets with Africa following a similar growth trajectory.

Per Gartner, in 2016, 82% of mobile phones will be smartphones – this is hefty increase over 2015!

Android and iOS together cover over ~99% of the global smartphone market. iOS remains solely in the premium category while Android has been embraced by manufacturers aiming to bring smartphones to the masses in emerging markets. The devices get more compute power year after year but premium devices on average cost about INR52,580.00 . The average price of an Android phone globally being approximately INR15,774.00 , largely due to several manufactures in India and China producing affordable devices. It is interesting to note that Gartner predicts users in China and other emerging markets will opt to replace within the basic smartphone category without necessary moving to the premium category. In my view, the “basic” smartphone category comprises of hundreds of competent Android devices that can run all popular consumer and business applications.

With the prices soaring for premium devices, the consumer is expecting more – something more than glossy screen, water proof hardware, mind numbing CPU stats, more disk space, blazing data speeds etc.

What “more” may vary from person to person but with the growing number of devices an average professional is carrying – the laptop, a tablet, a phone, a smartwatch, a fitness tracker; one must wonder about the effective utilization of all that compute power

Samvit Raina
Samvit Raina
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QSR industry turning to Technology to deal with CA $15 minimum wage hike

October 13, 2016
Enterprise Mobility

On April 4th, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed a INR983.85 minimum wage in California. California and New York have the distinction of having the highest minimum wage in the country. As union labor leaders rejoiced on this historic signing, most small restaurant owners did not take this lightly. Over the past few years small restaurant owners in California have been struggling with the increase of commercial property value and rent, but they will now have to plan for a 50% increase in their labor costs that will occur in the next 5 years or face having to close down their business. With rising health care costs and the need to pay sick and maternity leave for all employees, this has definitely put a strain on the small restaurant owner’s bottom line.

Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs) are now turning to technology to see how they can reduce their labor costs, cut down on long customer wait time, and help improve their bottom line numbers. Large fast-casual chains have been investing in technology by adding online ordering, a mobile app, and ordering kiosks in their stores as a way to improve operations. By doing this, they would be able to cut down on labor costs as well as improving and expediting the ordering process for their guests. Their online and mobile ordering encompasses 16.4% of their overall sales, while the average ticket per mobile app ordering is INR1,359.68 versus their in-store ticket of INR1,096.01 . Customers who order through the online/mobile app essentially spend 24% more than customers who walk-in to order. The ultimate goal is to have 25% of their sales come through their online and mobile ordering app.

Average Ticket Per Transaction

In essence the mobile app has to be user-friendly and easy to navigate. Most customers are always on the go and have a limited time to eat lunch; as a result their mobile device is often used as a wallet replacement. Customers like the fact that the mobile app is extremely convenient when it comes to the personalization of their orders. The app makes it very simple to order and reorder from their online menu. Customers can simply log into the app and click on their previous order and press the submit tab. In the time it takes them to drive to the store their meal will be prepared and upon their arrival, they just simply have to pick up their order. No waiting in line or being put on hold when calling into the store. It is that simple and it simply works.

While some QSRs don’t currently have an in-store kiosk, other QSR chains such as Panera Bread have jumped to the forefront in providing this technology in their establishments. The diagram below shows how having an ordering kiosk in the store can greatly improve operations and cut on labors costs.

However, adding a kiosk doesn’t replace the entire customer service experience. You will still need to have a small amount of employees to bus tables and clean the dining/bathroom areas, which an ordering kiosk cannot do. Moreover, having an ordering kiosk would be ideal for some smaller restaurants where seating is limited, for guest who have limited time to eat (on average lunch time is about 30 minutes), and restaurants that have mostly Togo orders; having an ordering kiosk may be the perfect solution for them.

Girish Avantsa
Girish Avantsa
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