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CIO Podcast: customer centred mobile Apps

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As bank TSB knows all too well, how people perceive your brand is based on their technology experience. In the highly competitive world of online book retailing this is especially the case because of the dominant position of Amazon, which of course has transformed not only the retail of novels, but every shopping story you can name.

Despite the scale and success of Amazon, here in the UK a technology driven service, developed by a UK development house demonstrates that a good technology consumer experience allows organisations to flourish alongside a US giant like Amazon.

World of Books was founded in 2000 by three Sussex entrepreneurs who had started out selling books at car boot sales and is now a primary partner to retail giant Amazon, but also the charity sector.

“We sell books across 30 different marketplaces, essentially these books were going to landfill,” says Head of IT for World of Books Ben Edwards. “Charities receive so many of these book and they struggle to sell them. Just because you have a book about thermodynamics that is sitting on a high street in Middlesbrough in a charity shop, you have to rely on the right person walking in, finding it and buying it. Whereas if you sell online across all these different marketplaces at the right price, the likelihood is someone will be able to buy it at the right price.”

In 2013 World of Books saw an opportunity to capitalise on the mobility wave and build a direct to the consumer service and developed Ziffit, a mobile service for selling books, games, DVDs and CDs. Mobility allows organisations to build services that become unique businesses in themselves.

“For us, the question was, how can we get more books and how can we leverage the technology to get more goods in to be recycled and sold?” Edwards adds: “The obvious solutions was a B2C direct to the consumer App. Ziffit is a site where you turn your mobile phone into a barcode scanner and you get an instant price for the item.”

“Ziffit has grown massively in the last couple of years and now trades over seven million items a year,” Edwards says of how the four year old business has grown. “For us mobile was a key part of the strategy.” World of Books set out to ensure that Ziffit and its App were not “an extension of the website,” and worked with mobile technology development agency to ensure it developed a mobile first customer centric service. “It is so much more convenient than typing in your barcodes manually you can upload them with the camera App,” the IT Head says.

Right, Josh O’Riordan of Brightec with left CIO Francesco de Marchis at the Horizon CIO Summit

Customer centered mobile Apps

“Respecting the voice of our customers is critical to us. One of the things that Brightec helped us organise is the user testing, where we would sit in a room and watch users interact with the App and that really brings everything to life.

“You can often get really bogged down in Google Analytics with bounce rates and conversion rates, which are not very real. Whereas when you see a user hitting something in the flow of the App that doesn’t work properly, it brings those figures to life and how you can influence them,” Edwards says of not being overly data focused. Brightec, a Brighton based development agency has been a partner to World of Books from the outset with the development of Ziffit.

Brightec specialises mobile App development and has delivered technologies for financial services providers Willis Towers Watson, retailers Morrisons and automotive firm Jaguar Land Rover.

“It was interesting doing the user testing, it wasn’t just the learning that we could take from the user experience, it felt like we were learning a lot about the actual brand as well; and how people perceive the brand through interacting on the website and App. I think a lot of that was taken back to the marketing and internal teams,” says Andy Ferrett, managing director of Brightec.

“A lot of the fixes were not IT fixes. The CMO sat in and it was useful to him and a lot was actually the messaging and what we say to the customer,” Edwards says of how user involvement shapes the experience for all members of the organisation and its C-level.

“One of the biggest conversations is the context and when someone is interacting with your product,” says Joshua O’Riordan, Creative Director of Brightec says. “On most desktop systems you are making the assumption that they are at home or in an office, relatively fixed moments when they are interacting with your product. When it comes to mobile testing, you have to really take into account when someone is interacting with your account, but also how quickly, how long they take to get your core message and value proposition, are they using it outside in the sun? If so don’t create a black app?

“For these guys it was about where is someone going to be. We were trying to gauge with customers, whether it is living rooms, grandparents houses or loft spaces. So making sure we have high contrast rates and many of the big learning points were about how we optimise this app for the customer.”

“It gave everyone a direct insight into communicating the charitable and recycling benefits came from this room here,” Ferrett of Brightec adds.

Context, content and technology

Not only is there are high number of front end customer demands on developing a mobile App, but the customer expects a technology experience as rich as they would receive on a desktop device. That means a strong focus on using Application Programming Interface (API) and context centric networking.

“We provide Brightec with an API that hooks back into our systems and algorithms to provide the buying rules and selling engines,” Edwards of World of Books says of how the Ziffit App connects to the Amazon and eBay platforms where the Sussex retailer sells the bulk of its inventory.

But Edwards says CIOs and organisations don’t always have to rely on heavyweight technologies to deliver a great customer service. “It is not always as complex as APIs, somethings work on SFTP file drops, so it varies by company,” he says.

“One thing I would say is that not all APIs are equal and not all API documentation is equal. So a key consideration is, what is the level of work is required to interrogate this API and work with it,” Edwards says.

“The biggest challenge is again context, when people are on 4G and 3G connections, especially 3G there is a whole lot of stuff to deal with, especially around how efficient and optimised a connection is and to make sure that people can load data quickly, so there is a lot of design around that,” Brightec’s O’Riordan says. “On a desktop you can get away with giving away more data that then gets parsed and you can rely on a powerful machine that can process that data. On a mobile, if you lose a connection halfway through how do you go back and get that data again. There is also a bunch of considerations on how often an App is opened, it could be once a month, a year, 18 times a day, so there are a host of considerations about stale data and cache and how you update, and how you hit the API for the next data. There are considerations around assets and imagery and mobiles have a whole range of screen densities,” the creative director says of the myriad considerations in App development.

Developing new businesses requires a strong partnership between clients and the technology service provider and Edwards of World of Books believes this was crucial in the development of Ziffit.

“We couldn’t really have got the success without this long term relationship. Our business is quite complex and in terms of time saving and I think we have access to fantastic talent in all areas of this business,” he says of the relationship with Brightec.

“To serve anyone well you have got to know them well and know what their needs are. For us as a service provider, it does take time and partly it is psychological, you get involved and for us it’s years and all of our team are massively invested in it,” O’Riordan of Brightec says.

Horizon Innovation Partner: 

Brightec – customer centred App developers

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Mobility allows organisations to build services that become unique businesses in themselves. “For us, the question was, how can we get more books and how can we leverage the technology to get more goods in to be recycled and sold?” Edwards adds: “The obvious solutions was a B2C direct to the consumer App. Ziffit is a site where you turn your mobile phone into a barcode scanner and you get an instant price for the item.” “Ziffit has grown massively in the last couple of years and now trades over seven million items a year,” Edwards says of how the four year old business has grown. “For us mobile was a key part of the strategy.” World of Books set out to ensure that Ziffit and its App were not “an extension of the website,” and worked with mobile technology development agency to ensure it developed a mobile first customer centric service. “It is so much more convenient than typing in your barcodes manually you can upload them with the camera App,” the IT Head says. Right, Josh O’Riordan of Brightec with left CIO Francesco de Marchis at the Horizon CIO Summit Customer centered mobile Apps “Respecting the voice of our customers is critical to us. One of the things that Brightec helped us organise is the user testing, where we would sit in a room and watch users interact with the App and that really brings everything to life. “You can often get really bogged down in Google Analytics with bounce rates and conversion rates, which are not very real. Whereas when you see a user hitting something in the flow of the App that doesn’t work properly, it brings those figures to life and how you can influence them,” Edwards says of not being overly data focused. Brightec, a Brighton based development agency has been a partner to World of Books from the outset with the development of Ziffit. Brightec specialises mobile App development and has delivered technologies for financial services providers Willis Towers Watson, retailers Morrisons and automotive firm Jaguar Land Rover. “It was interesting doing the user testing, it wasn’t just the learning that we could take from the user experience, it felt like we were learning a lot about the actual brand as well; and how people perceive the brand through interacting on the website and App. I think a lot of that was taken back to the marketing and internal teams,” says Andy Ferrett, managing director of Brightec. “A lot of the fixes were not IT fixes. The CMO sat in and it was useful to him and a lot was actually the messaging and what we say to the customer,” Edwards says of how user involvement shapes the experience for all members of the organisation and its C-level. “One of the biggest conversations is the context and when someone is interacting with your product,” says Joshua O’Riordan, Creative Director of Brightec says. “On most desktop systems you are making the assumption that they are at home or in an office, relatively fixed moments when they are interacting with your product. When it comes to mobile testing, you have to really take into account when someone is interacting with your account, but also how quickly, how long they take to get your core message and value proposition, are they using it outside in the sun? If so don’t create a black app? “For these guys it was about where is someone going to be. We were trying to gauge with customers, whether it is living rooms, grandparents houses or loft spaces. So making sure we have high contrast rates and many of the big learning points were about how we optimise this app for the customer.” “It gave everyone a direct insight into communicating the charitable and recycling benefits came from this room here,” Ferrett of Brightec adds. Context, content and technology Not only is there are high number of front end customer demands on developing a mobile App, but the customer expects a technology experience as rich as they would receive on a desktop device. That means a strong focus on using Application Programming Interface (API) and context centric networking. “We provide Brightec with an API that hooks back into our systems and algorithms to provide the buying rules and selling engines,” Edwards of World of Books says of how the Ziffit App connects to the Amazon and eBay platforms where the Sussex retailer sells the bulk of its inventory. But Edwards says CIOs and organisations don’t always have to rely on heavyweight technologies to deliver a great customer service. “It is not always as complex as APIs, somethings work on SFTP file drops, so it varies by company,” he says. “One thing I would say is that not all APIs are equal and not all API documentation is equal. So a key consideration is, what is the level of work is required to interrogate this API and work with it,” Edwards says. “The biggest challenge is again context, when people are on 4G and 3G connections, especially 3G there is a whole lot of stuff to deal with, especially around how efficient and optimised a connection is and to make sure that people can load data quickly, so there is a lot of design around that,” Brightec’s O’Riordan says. “On a desktop you can get away with giving away more data that then gets parsed and you can rely on a powerful machine that can process that data. On a mobile, if you lose a connection halfway through how do you go back and get that data again. There is also a bunch of considerations on how often an App is opened, it could be once a month, a year, 18 times a day, so there are a host of considerations about stale data and cache and how you update, and how you hit the API for the next data. There are considerations around assets and imagery and mobiles have a whole range of screen densities,” the creative director says of the myriad considerations in App development. Developing new businesses requires a strong partnership between clients and the technology service provider and Edwards of World of Books believes this was crucial in the development of Ziffit. “We couldn’t really have got the success without this long term relationship. Our business is quite complex and in terms of time saving and I think we have access to fantastic talent in all areas of this business,” he says of the relationship with Brightec. “To serve anyone well you have got to know them well and know what their needs are. For us as a service provider, it does take time and partly it is psychological, you get involved and for us it’s years and all of our team are massively invested in it,” O’Riordan of Brightec says. Horizon Innovation Partner:  Brightec – customer centred App developers
  • Horizon CIO Podcast podcast

    CIO podcast: David Germain, CIO of RSA Group

    24:24

    For the second year in a row insurance business RSA Group has announced good results. During 2017 RSA Group, which in the UK is better known for its More Than general insurance (GI) brand, recorded profits of £322 million after tax, up from £20 million in 2016. The good results of 2016 prompted CEO Stephen Hester to state that the international insurance business was out of recovery. In late 2016 David Germain joined RSA Group as CTO working alongside stalwart RSA business leader Darren Price and a year later became Group Chief Information & Technology Officer. Germain invited the Horizon CIO Podcast to the RSA Group headquarters in the Walkie Talkie building in central London to discuss the turn-around story of RSA, his career, diversity and how technology is reshaping general insurance. “We have around 13,000 employees and we deal with what we call core GI products, so anything like home, pet, business and on the commercial side, developments, property, schools and hospitals,” Germain says of the RSA Group business that also operates in Canada, Scandinavia and the Middle East. Written by Mark Chillingworth Photographed by Matt Gore “Our profitability in 2017 and our operating profit was £660 million and our net written premiums was £6.7 billion and our combined operating ratio was around 94%. We have come to the end of the recovery and we have made it clear to the markets. We have three strategic pillars to focus on; one is our service to customers, second is our underlying service results and the third is the cost efficiency across the organisation. Those pillars have kept us honest as we have gone through the recovery,” Germain says. “I think technology was, has and will continue to be integral to how we look at our cost ratios,” Germain adds of how technology played a key role in the turn-around of the business. Since RSA Group found itself in difficulties in 2014 the business has been reshaping its operations and as Germain reveals, modernising and rationalising the technology estate. Germain reveals claims platforms have been centralised, data platforms have been unified in an effort to provide better insights to the business and the latest wave of technologies are being adopted. “We need to continuously industrialise what we do, everywhere and continuously educate and learn with our people about how these technologies work and figure out where these technologies can take us,” Germain says. But despite two years of reporting good results, competition is fierce in the insurance sector and challenges to the economy have a major impact to the sector. “We have to continue to focus on our cost base and we have to continuously have to prioritise. And one of the key areas for me as we look at our cost base is robotics. What can we do with processing and automation, AI and where can we take that in our contact centres and how can we create the more ecocentric environment? At the same time, ensuring we are not degrading the customer experience, we are improving the customer experience,” Germain says. CTO to CITO Germain is one of a growing number of business technology leaders to have a job title that has a remit of both information and technology. “It is three hats, the first one as a CTO was the transformation programme with multi-million pound projects happening in every region, replatforming and consolidation and new data platforms, new web based platforms and designing the digital experience, that was my CTO hat, alongside a very technically competent organisation and trying to get them to work out the right road maps. “The second element is being the CIO and that is like going home for me, I had the opportunity to look at the operating environment, and again and what the senior execs asked was to get a good understanding of the operating environment, where we spend money, how we spend money and what are the benefits and outcomes we get for it,” he says. Germain adds that as CIO he is also looking at ensuring where RSA Group outsources IT and business processes it understands what skills it must keen in-house. “So the CIO and the CTO hat have been tightly coupled. The further strand is about innovation. We all talk about AI (artificial intelligence) and cognitive intelligence, we all talk about connected insurance, and the key thing for me is use cases. Where can we see real use cases. We are never going to be bleeding edge as an organisation, it is not something we prescribe to, but what we are looking at, is being fast followers and we are working with great insuretech partners,” he says. Germain says RSA Group is actively looking at startups that “will that plug into our business processes”. During his career Germain has also held COO roles and in the process oriented world of financial services Germain believes that experience has been vital. “My historical COO hat has stood me well and it is another string to my bow and working with teams and meeting different cultures and getting close to the application end user state is part of the way forward.” Like many of his peers in a variety of sectors, Germain is working on cultural change across the organisation, including the adoption of Agile, which he says is flourishing in Scandinavia. “I am very keen to learn to how we can leverage that across the organisation.” Germain says the adoption of a new culture using the latest working methods is crucial as the expectations of customers changes. General insurance businesses have to have a omnichannel approach he says with communications to the customer across a variety of platforms. That approach is not only about the internal culture, Germain says that partners to RSA Group are now being tasked to “change and adapt” he says. “We have 630 technologists across the group and an additional 170 are contractors and we have a number of SI providers, and we ask them to help us to learn and as we build out our centres of excellence to enable us to grow.” Connected diversity “Our business development leaders are highly focused on connected insurance. We are looking at Bot, sensory and IoT technologies. Connected insurance is in our pipeline, we will be fast followers we have to create an architecture that allows us to create API solutions with third party providers,” Germain says of how major insurance firms have to be ready to react to challengers such as Neos in the UK and Lemonade in the USA, just two of the challenger brands to enter the market. “We are aware that connected insurance is a disruptor, and there is a very real awareness that customers will expect solutions and services to be added to our products and service. We are constantly having a healthy tension and debate around our digital agenda and our digital operating models and our customer experience and constantly bring hypothesis to the table and what our customers will want,” he says. As a black CIO leading a FTSE 100 financial services business, Germain is passionate about increasing diversity in technology, financial services and the top table of the FTSE 100. “I am very privileged and honoured to be in this position. I would say to anyone, to focus on a few core things: focus on your strengths, make sure that the organisation can see them and what you are adding in terms of value. Focus on your development and ask for feedback, broaden your network.” Most importantly, Germain advises those from diverse backgrounds: “don’t be scared to speak up, that is why those organisations have hired you”. Germain says good mentors are crucial to help gauge speaking up. “Find ways of working with people who can help you and your career, but the starting point is always going to be your performance.” Asked if he had mentors who shared his background Germain laughs: “There wasn’t, that didn’t come until a decade into my career,” but the CIO has a confident outlook and believes business technologists from diverse backgrounds have a broader set of champions to model themselves on than he did. “I think the world has changed and there are a few more David Germains around the FTSE 100 and globally, so there are different relationships around diversity that is more than just a gender or a colour.”      
  • Horizon CIO Podcast podcast

    CIO Podcast: Is SAP restricting CIO’s ability to be agile?

    40:42

    In the spring of 2018 enterprise resource planning (ERP) software giant SAP announced that from 2025 its ERP software will be built to operate with just one database platform, its own SAP HANA database.   Between now and 2025 SAP will continue to support ERPs using Oracle, SQL, IBM or a myriad of other database formats, but beyond 2025 it will no longer support ERP applications not using the HANA database.  Discussion on CIO forums that the Horizon CIO Podcast is a member of displayed a fear amongst business technology leaders that SAP is imposing a restriction on agility and technology spend on CIOs. This restriction comes at a time when CIOs must display an increased focus on the needs of the customer and business agility.   CIO Mark Lockton-Goddard and Bryan Oak, COO of Searchlight Consulting agree with this sentiment and debate the issue on the Horizon CIO Podcast. “HANA is still a very nascent product, it is increasing in adoption and the product set is maturing, but at the same time we have a lot of existing SAP customers who have invested a lot of their time and are struggling to see the business case for moving from their existing platforms to HANA,” Oak says analysing the current database market. Analyst houses believe there are over 36,000 instances of the SAP ERP platform in place globally and although 2025 may sound some way off, it is less than seven years away. “Often in our businesses we have customised them and that may not be a good thing, but it is often right for our business.  That doesn’t really leave a lot of time, as a complex implementation means there is not a lot time,” Fidessa financial services business CIO Lockton-Goddard says. “Upgrading therefore is often an expensive process and it is time consuming and the business benefits may not be seen. “So to have a conversation with the board about doing an upgrade that will cost a bunch of money, and you are not going to get the business benefits is not a great conversation to have right now.” Oak agrees with the CIO, but believes the industry must not look at SAP’s plans as an “upgrade”.  “The architecture is such that for most people it is a re-implementation. The customisations you have will have to be considered.  If it is a reimplementation and a significant investment, you don’t want to start those conversations with ‘we have got to do this because the database technology is forcing us to do it’. That is the tail wagging the dog. It should be a conversation about what are the business drivers and what are the capabilities we want,” Oak says. “Having already a lot of investment on the balance sheet around SAP, you cannot just wipe that off and say let’s start again,” Lockton-Goddard adds. “By 2025 normal support for the existing versions of SAP running on other database platforms will be reduced,” he says, though Oak believes it is highly likely that SAP will offer an extension. SAP in danger “It is a challenging conversation for SAP. If you are saying the right thing is to revisit our business plans and processes, I am not sure how many businesses would say SAP is the answer,” CIO Lockton-Goddard says of how organisations are constantly revisiting their strategies and business processes and as a result drop application suites as part of this review. The CIO adds that organisations are beginning to question the reasons for having an ERP platform. “Maybe an ERP solution is not a great answer for a dynamic, customer focused very agile business, so it is very risky for SAP to force people down a route where SAP will not be the answer. “The nearer you are to the customer, the more you need to be agile, the more likely you are to be digital and therefore the more that will impact the systems on a regular basis. So these large complicated systems don’t have the agility that we need. So again we end up pulling the ERP back into itself and it becomes a system of record and you deploy more agile tools around that,” Lockton-Goddard says. Oak (left) agrees and Searchlight Consulting see an increasing number of organisations assessing a component view of the applications they need and selecting applications depending on their “business landscape..and the capabilities needed”. “Some of this is also a bit old school, we talk of a replacement journey of three to five years, I can’t operate in three to five year cycles, I am lucky if I can operate in three to five months. So the concept of something that is complicated and deploying in that old waterfall style of way is just a non-starter. I don’t think it works for a lot of businesses now, we need to be pacy, agile and able to flip systems based on what is going on in the market right now. It feels like SAP are being product focused and not customer focused,” Lockton-Goddard says. Oak adds that this old school thinking, as CIO Lockton-Goddard dubs it, suggest SAP do not understand the needs of their CIO customers. “You still have got to have a core set of transactions that are stable, and you don’t want to be told that if you want to open a new channel or a new supply to market, you have got to go and rip out all the finance, supply chain and HR.” Another threat to SAP is the rising adoption by CIOs and organisations of SaaS tools such as Salesforce and Workday, to name just two. Both tool sets are expanding beyond their traditional sales management and HR into business processes such as procurement and payroll. “When you integrate all of these systems together and a transaction takes place in a third party application, which accesses the SAP business logic, that is an indirect user,” Oak says of the increasingly common application landscape CIOs operate. But it is this complex architecture which led to the court case back in February 2017 ruled in favour of SAP against FTSE listed beverages firm Diageo and others for infringement of the software licence.  “They settled for huge amounts of money where they are deemed to be outside of their licence agreements,” Oak says. “You are in an environment with other products and that is where the existing SAP customers will be well aware of the well documented legal cases of indirect access. “SAP has tried to remedy that and they have got some bad press about how they were using that case as a stick for the way they worked with clients. They remedied that a bit with talk of outcome based license payments,” Oak says. “That is going to be really confusing for the CIOs and how do we factor that in so that we have predictable costs. With user based pricing it is fairly easy to factor. When you look a business transaction volumes it becomes a very difficult business to model.” “Pricing is not overly simple now.  These organisation are not known for having clear and simple pricing now,” Lockton-Goddard adds. “I think the desire to get more revenue from existing clients was a period of time where the licence audit was being used as a bit of a stick. It shows you must understand your license agreements and the chances are you don’t have one agreement, and understanding the lay of the land and getting good legal council is essential,” Oak adds. Does the database matter? “To some extent it should be irrelevant and it should be based on outcomes. I don’t want to give that decision away, because I know that data, how we look at data and use it, that is increasingly a strategic question for us,” CIO Lockton-Goddard (left) says. “I worry when a service provider starts to regiment and restrict what you can do as a business.” Oaks argues: “As long as you can get to the data, and it performs and this is where SAP is going with the HANA cloud offering.” He and Searchlight believe the real concern for CIOs is “whether all of these software providers are geared up to be a support partner. The management, support, responsiveness and the service levels that the users are used to,” the COO says. Lockton-Goddard says: “I totally understand why SAP want to go down this route, what is concerning is the cost of the upgrade is so high for a lot of people that it might have a negative effect on their business”.

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