Saturday, 19 August 2017

Are you drowning in Data Lake?

Today more than even, every business is focusing on collecting the data and applying analytics to be competitive. Big Data Analytics has passed the hype stage and has become the essential part of business plans.

Data Lake is the latest buzzword for dumping every element of data you can find internally or externally. If you Google the term data lake, you will get more than 14 million results. With entry of Hadoop, everyone wants to dump their siloes of data warehouses, data marts and create data lake.

The idea behind a data lake is to have one central platform to store and analyze every kind of data relevant to the enterprise. With the digital transformation, the data generated every day has multiplied by several times and business are collecting this consumer data, Internet of Things data and other data for further analysis. 

As the storage has become cheaper, more data is being stored in its raw format in the hopes of finding nuggets of information but eventually it becomes difficult. It is like using your smartphone to click photographs left, right and center, but when you want to show some specific photograph to someone it’s very difficult.

Data Lakes, if not maintained properly, have the potential to grow aimlessly consuming all the budget. Some companies have their data lakes overflowing on premise systems into the cloud.

Most data lakes lack governance, lack the tools and skills to handle large volumes of disparate data, and many lack a compelling business case. But, this water (the data) from your data lake has to be crystal clear and drinkable, else it will become a swamp.

Before getting into bandwagon of creating the data lake that may cost thousands of dollars and months to implement, you should start asking these questions.
·        What data we want to store in Data Lake?
·        How much data to be stored?
·        How will we access this massive amounts of data and get value from it easily?

Here are some guidelines to avoid drowning into data lakes.
·        First and foremost - create one or more business use cases that lay out exactly what will be done with the data that gets collected. With that exercise you will avoid dumping data, which is meaningless.
·        Determine the Returns you want to get out of Data Lake. Developing a data lake is not a casual thing. You need good business benefits coming out of it.
·        Make sure your overall big data and analytics initiatives are designed to exploit the data lake fully & help achieve business goals
·        Instead of getting into vendor traps and their buzzwords, focus on your needs, and determine the best way to get there.
·        Deliver the data to wide audience to check and revert with feedback while creating value

There are many cloud vendors to help you out building data lakes – Microsoft Azure, Amazon S3 etc.

By making data available to Data Scientists & anyone who needs it, for as long as they need it, data lakes are a powerful lever for innovation and disruption across industries.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Why Data Visualization matter now?

Data Visualization is not new, it has been around in various forms for more than thousands of years. 

Ancient Egyptians used symbolic paintings, drawn on walls & pottery, to tell timeless stories of their culture for generations to come.

Human brain understands the information via pictures more easily than writing sentences, essays, spreadsheets etc. You must have seen traffic symbols while driving…why do they have only 1 picture instead of writing a whole sentence like school ahead, deer crossing or narrow bridge? Because you as driver can grasp the image faster while keeping your eyes on the road.

Over last 25 years technology has given us popular methods like line, bar, and pie charts showing company progress in different forms, which still dominate the boardrooms.

Data visualization has become a fundamental discipline as it enables more and more businesses and decision makers to see big data and analytics presented visually. It helps identify the exact area that needs attention or improvement than leaving it to the leaders to interpret as they want.

Until recently making sense of all of that raw data was too daunting for most, but recent computing developments have created new tools like Tableau, Qlik with striking visual techniques, especially for use online, including the use of animations.

There is a wealth of information hiding in the data in your database that is just waiting to be discovered. Even historical complicated data collected from disparate sources start to make sense when shown pictorially. Data Scientists do a fantastic job of analyzing this data using machine learning, finding relationship but communicating the story to others is the last milestone.

In today's Digital age, we as consumers generate tons of data every day and businesses want to use that for hyper-personalization, sending right offers to us by collecting, storing & analyzing this data. Data Visualization is the necessary ingredient to bring power of this big data to mainstream.

It is hard to tell how the data behaves in the data table. Only when we apply visualization via graphs or charts, we get a clear picture how the data behaves. 

Data visualization allows us to quickly interpret the data and adjust different variables to see their effect and technology is increasingly making it easier for us to do so. 

The best data visualizations are ones that expose something new about the underlying patterns and relationships contained within the data. Data Visualization brings multiple advantages such as showing the big picture quickly with simplicity for further action.

Finally as they say “A picture is worth a thousand words” and it is much important when you are trying to show the relationships within the data.

Data is the new oil, but it is crude, and cannot really be used unless it is refined with visualization to bring the new gold nuggets.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Do you want to hire a Data Scientist?

As mentioned by Tom Davenport few years back, Data Scientist is still a hottest job of century.

Data scientists are those elite people who solve business problems by analyzing tons of data and communicate the results in a very compelling way to senior leadership and persuade them to take action.

They have the critical responsibility to understand the data and help business get more knowledgeable about their customers.

The importance of Data Scientists has rose to top due to two key issues:
·     Increased need & desire among businesses to gain greater value from their data to be competitive
·     Over 80% of data/information that businesses generate and collect is unstructured or semi-structured data that need special treatment

So it is extremely important to hire a right person for the job. Requirements for being a data scientist are pretty rigorous, and truly qualified candidates are few and far between.

Data Scientists are very high in demand, hard to attract, come at a very high cost so if there is a wrong hire then it’s really more frustrating. 

Here are some guidelines for checking them:
·     Check the logical reasoning ability
·     Problem solving skills
·     Ability to collaborate & communicate with business folks
·     Practical experience on collaborating Big Data tools
·     Statistical and machine learning experience
·     Should be able to describe their projects very clearly where they have solved business problems
·     Should be able to tell story from the data
·     Should know the latest of cognitive computing, deep learning

I have seen smartest data scientists in my career, who do the best job at analytics, but cannot communicate the results to senior leaders effectively. Ideally they should know the data in depth and can explain its significance properly. Data visualizations comes very handy at this stage.

Today with digital disrupting every field it has an impact on data science also.

Gartner has called this new breed as citizen data scientists. Their primary job function is outside analytics, they don’t know much about statistics but can work on ready to use algorithms available in APIs like Watson, Tensor flow, Azure and other well-known tools.

The good data scientist can make use of them to spread the awareness and expand their influence.

It has become more important to hire a right data scientist as they will show you the results which may make or break the company.


Sunday, 30 July 2017

How Customer Analytics has evolved...

Customer analytics has been one of hottest buzzwords for years. Few years back it was only marketing department’s monopoly carried out with limited volumes of customer data, which was stored in relational databases like Oracle or appliances like Teradata and Netezza.

SAS & SPSS were the leaders in providing customer analytics but it was restricted to conducting segmentation of customers who are likely to buy your products or services.

In the 90’s came web analytics, it was more popular for page hits, time on sessions, use of cookies for visitors and then using that for customer analytics.

By the late 2000s, Facebook, Twitter and all the other social channels changed the way people interacted with brands and each other. Businesses needed to have a presence on the major social sites to stay relevant.

With the digital age things have changed drastically. Customer is superman now. Their mobile interactions have increased substantially and they leave digital footprint everywhere they go. They are more informed, more connected, always on and looking for exceptionally simple and easy experience.

This tsunami of data has changed the customer analytics forever.

Today customer analytics is not only restricted to marketing for churn and retention but more focus is going on how to improve the customer experience and is done by every department of the organization.

A lot of companies had problems integrating large bulk of customer data between various databases and warehouse systems. They are not completely sure of which key metrics to use for profiling customers. Hence creating customer 360 degree view became the foundation for customer analytics. It can capture all customer interactions which can be used for further analytics.

From the technology perspective, the biggest change is the introduction of big data platforms which can do the analytics very fast on all the data organization has, instead of sampling and segmentation.

Then came Cloud based platforms, which can scale up and down as per the need of analysis, so companies didn’t have to invest upfront on infrastructure.

Predictive models of customer churn, Retention, Cross-Sell do exist today as well, but they run against more data than ever before.

Even analytics has further evolved from descriptive to predictive to prescriptive. Only showing what will happen next is not helping anymore but what actions you need to take is becoming more critical.

There are various ways customer analytics is carried out:
·       Acquiring all the customer data
·       Understanding the customer journey
·       Applying big data concepts to customer relationships
·       Finding high propensity prospects
·       Upselling by identifying related products and interests
·       Generating customer loyalty by discovering response patterns
·       Predicting customer lifetime value (CLV)
·       Identifying dissatisfied customers & churn patterns
·       Applying predictive analytics
·       Implementing continuous improvement

Hyper-personalization is the center stage now which gives your customer the right message, on the right platform, using the right channel, at the right time

Now via Cognitive computing and Artificial Intelligence using IBM Watson, Microsoft and Google cognitive services, customer analytics will become sharper as their deep learning neural network algorithms provide a game changing aspect.

Tomorrow there may not be just plain simple customer sentiment analytics based on feedbacks or surveys or social media, but with help of cognitive it may be what customer’s facial expressions show in real time.

There’s no doubt that customer analytics is absolutely essential for brand survival.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Go Digital or Die - What will you chose?

Just before 2007, we didn't have access to smartphones like iPhone or social media apps like Instagram, Whatsapp and even email was much more limited only to desktops. 

Zoom in to Today - Digital Transformation has revolutionized everything we do. It has been one of the hottest topics for every business. It’s a subject which keeps the CEOs awake. 

Today it is Digital or Die.

Digital is happening fast and forcefully, whether businesses are ready for it or not. You can’t hide from it. There is a possibility that five of out ten businesses like Blockbuster, Kodak and Borders that will become digital dinosaur because of their lack of ability to adapt.

Going digital is not about moving to a specific technology like Cloud or Big Data, Analytics but it is really about  accommodating a change of how technology enables business. Billions of people across the world are attached to a global high-speed, real-time Internet. 

There are over 7+ billion mobile connections worldwide. In couple of years, Millennials will make up half of the working population. They expect highly personalized products and services, they want instant-gratification and they are omni-channel, online anytime, anyplace and any device. Using Mobile first as your strategy to go digital is no-brainer.

As technology becomes an increasing part of our everyday lives, it also becomes a vital part of business strategy to become more efficient in customer service and disrupt the market with exemplary customer experience.

Business models are changing, from products to services and have to have a sharp focus of extraordinary customer experience with digital, like Apple. To transform to digital, companies must place customer experience at the center of digital strategy.

Customers really want access to support via digital channels without the intervention of customer reps, unless they don’t find what they are looking for at the first point of contact or something goes wrong with the product which needs to be fixed quickly.

Burberry was one of the first players to turn their fashion shows into digital happenings. The company used the buzz around the events to lure its customer base, interact with and strengthen relationships with customers, and attract new ones.

Nike had moved on from a sports apparel company to fitness driven personalized wearables like FuelBand manufacturer.

Apple, Disney, Nordstrom and Nestle are just a handful of the household names that have mastered digital.

It’s a never-ending program of improvement. As important as the technologies and channels, are the employee training and mastering the skill set that empowers them to thrive in this more integrated and ‘digital first’ environment. 

Working from home is adopted by many organizations and moving to cloud based systems enables your employees to do that more effectively. They can access all relevant work content and more. 

Digital should not be bolt-on to home grown age old systems but must be central theme for every touch point to customer and internal processes.

Every company is a technology company today. The pace of digital is rising exponentially, making it very difficult to be the leaders in market. Your threat is not your traditional competitor but someone who comes up with innovative ideas to steal your customers.

As Charles Darvin once said - It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change

It is Digital or Die. You are an easy prey if you don’t change.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

How to measure Digital Transformation maturity?

The digital revolution has created significant opportunities and threats for every industry. Companies that cannot or do not make significant changes faster to their business model in response to a disruption are unlikely to survive

It is extremely important to do digital maturity assessment before embarking on digital transformation.

Digital leaders must respond to the clear and present threat of digital disruption by transforming their businesses. They must embed digital capabilities into the very heart of their business, making digital a core competency, not a bolt-on. Creating lasting transformative digital capabilities requires you to build a customer-centric culture within your organization.

This requires new capabilities that organizations need to acquire and develop which include disruptive technologies like Big Data, Analytics, Internet of Things, newer business models.

Digital maturity model measures readiness of the organization to attain higher value in digital customer engagement, digital operations or digital services. It helps in incremental adoption of digital technologies and processes to drive competitive strategies, greater operationally agility and respond to rapidly changing market conditions.

Business can use the maturity model to define the roadmap, measuring progress on the milestones.

The levels of maturity can be defined as per multiple reports available and
adopt the ones which makes more sense to your business.

·     Level 1 : Project based solutions are developed for a particular problem, no integration to home grown systems, unaware of risks and opportunities
·     Level 2 : Departmentalized projects but still not known to organization, little integration
·     Level 3 : Solutions are shared between the departments for a common business problem, better integration
·     Level 4 : Organization wide efforts of digital, highly integrated, adaptive culture for fail fast  and improve
·     Level 5 : Driven by CXOs, customer centric and complete transformation changes happen to organization

Here are the 7 categories on which business should ask questions to all the stakeholders to gauge the maturity of Digital Transformation and identify the improvement and priorities.

1.   Strategy & Roadmap - how the business operates or transforms to increase its competitive advantage through digital initiatives which are embedded within the overall business strategy
2.   Customer – Are you providing experience to customers on their preferred channels, online, offline, anytime on any device
3.   Technology – Relevant tools and technologies to make data available across all the systems
4.   Culture – Do you have the organization structure and culture to drive the digital top down
5.   Operations – Digitizing & automating the processes to enhance business efficiency and effectiveness.
6.   Partners – Are you utilizing right partners to augment your expertise
7.   Innovation – How employees are encouraged to bring the continuous innovation to how they serve the customers


Finally you know when you are digital transformed?
·             When there is nobody having “Digital” in their title
·             There is no marketing focused on digital within the organization
·             There is no separate digital strategy than company’s business strategy

Sunday, 9 July 2017

How Augmented Reality is improving Digital Age!!

Augmented reality (AR) means amplified reality with graphics, sounds, haptic feedback and smell to the natural world as it exists. Virtual objects and information are displayed on top of the physical world, will make its way to our phones.

Just like the Internet ofThings & Big data, Analytics, augmented reality is going mainstream. Search engines are already expanding on image search, allowing you to point your camera at something and search for information based on what the lens takes in.

Both video games and cell phones are driving & exploiting the development of augmented reality. Everyone from tourists to someone looking for the closest McDonalds can now benefit from the ability to place computer-generated graphics in their field of vision.

Unlike Virtual Reality, which creates a totally artificial environment like you are on the top of Eiffel tower or looking at Taj Mahal right now from your living room couch, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.

Pokemon Go released in 2016 was the most successful game to use AR to superimpose Pokemon on physical background and all children and adults were mad chasing them in real world.

Recent innovation, Heads-Up Display (HUDs) glass with AR superimpose crystal-clear driving directions on top of the real world so you can easily navigate without taking your eyes off the road. It’s like Pokemon Go but all the adorable monsters have been replaced by driving directions.

Digital Marketing will get a boost with AR.  A new augmented reality campaign from Pepsi Max have stunned people in London, giving experiences like a prowling tiger, a meteor crashing, an alien tentacle grabbing people on the street, the bus stop window serves as a scarily realistic screen to bring these scenarios to life.

With AR, you can view your living room on a smartphone and see how virtual furniture would fit into the real world and decide what is good to buy.

Artificial Intelligence has brought virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google to life but AR can put a face to it and beef up the experience. Microsoft Hololens is currently leading the AR headset race. 

There are several industries that will benefit from AR applications, including healthcare, tourism and entertainment. However, it is retailers who are the ones to use it more. With AR, your retail website is brought to life with a 360° online presentation of your store. In-store, augmented reality can easily display information and other visuals on packaged items with a simple image scan.

Lego’s “Digital Box” Provides Customers with an Interactive 3D Digital Experience. Aside from kiosks in stores, soon they will have mobile devices to be equipped with the capability to instantly bring up relevant information about any product in real-time.

Fashion retailer Forever 21 had put up a giant billboard which features a model walking in front of an image of the crowd below. The model occasionally leans over, and pluck someone out of the crowd. Sometimes, she drops them in her bag and happily walks off.

French cosmetic super chain Sephora is one of the leaders in AR marketing area. Their mobile apps & AR mirrors allow people to see how clothing, jewelry, and accessories look on them.

Augmented Reality cleverly blurs the line between the digital and the real by way of specially designed apps and unique visual ‘markers’ to intuitively visualise 3D virtual forms in physical realms.

We are still in the very early days of AR, and all of the future possibilities are difficult to imagine at this point. As this technology advances and gets more affordable, it will be easier for businesses to take advantage of it. AR helps to bridge the divide between the digital and offline world.

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