Head of Data Insights, Star Republic
Let me start with an experience for me scrolling through my social feed. I’m there to look at what my friends are doing, get some inspiration for future surf trips or to learn something new. In between these pieces of content I also receive some ads. Some bad & some really good.
Let’s start with the bad ones. I get an ad, from a company I’ve never heard of before saying, in their copy, like “Black shoes from brand “x”, 78 dollars” – why should I buy them? Why should I even look at their website? Even if I’m interested in shoes (and the advertiser did do their job with audience-targeting right) I’m not really there to marry the shoe company after the first date – if the shoes look great I might consider it, but in most cases I’m not going to.
So, what makes the good ones stand out? Ads are great when you’re at the right place, at the right time, targeting the right person BUT also with the right content. In order to achieve this I’ve got some tips for you…
- Give your campaigns the right opportunities
Facebook use their learning phase of each campaign to improve your results and find more people with similar attributes. You need to have 50 conversions per ad set (audience) in the last period of time, around 7 days, to get the most out of your campaign. That could be pretty hard to achieve if you optimize against purchase and don’t have a lot of data to go with. You are better off if you trust the learning phase instead and try to choose the step before purchase, add to cart. Or even earlier in the funnel than that – people who visited a product page. After that start with 1 or 2 ad sets based on your budget and successively scale up. The better data your learning phase gets, the better you will succeed in the long run.
- Use lookalikes the right way
Use Facebook analytics to find out how much data you’ve got in each step of your funnel (To do this you need to have your Facebook pixel firing) and make lookalikes of them. For example, make a lookalike of people who made a purchase on your website. But you have to keep in mind that if the audience which your lookalike is based on is too small – Facebook will not have enough data points from your source to make a great performing lookalike. In that case you could instead choose to make a lookalike of people who added a product to cart and you might grow the source of the audience and help Facebook out by finding similar people to them.
- Take advantage of every platform
Customize your content from platform to platform. You might have heard that you should use a 16:9 format for Facebook, which means that your content is horizontal, and that might be good for people browsing on a computer. But nowadays we use our phone, scrolling, scrolling and scrolling; therefore you have to really take advantage of every space you’ve got. So instead, try to make your content 1:1 for the feed and 9:16 for stories. In other words, use every space you get for your money.
- Make your ad pop out
This might follow up a little bit on my previous tip but there’s a lot of hard competition out there, so you better make your ad stand out a bit from the other 7 million advertisers. You have to catch the viewers’ attention in the first seconds. But, how can you do that? Let me give you an example. People tend to watch videos over photos, that is something you may be aware of at the moment. And you also might know that you need subtitles because of people watching with the sound off. But do you think that goes for all of Facebook platforms? The answer is no. Think about when you’re on Instagram watching stories. You usually don’t mute your phone just because you’re watching stories. In fact, 60 % of people watch stories with sound on. That is a great opportunity for you to not only catch the viewer by the eye – but also the ear. 🙂
- Customize your ad for different people
Think about my introduction. Would you have purchased from that company with that ad only telling you the price with a picture? Probably not. But if, let us say they showed me a video with advice like “how to take care of your surfboard” – that is something I probably would click on. By doing that, I start trusting in that company and their chances for me to engage with one more ad is higher. I’m not there yet, to buy, but maybe one step closer to becoming a customer. You better analyze these steps to figure out which content to deliver to each touchpoint.
- Use metrics to keep track
If you have your Facebook pixel setup and firing (which you REALLY should have) there are some numbers that are more important than others. But of course, it depends on the goal of the campaign. I’ll show you the most basic you may want to keep track of:
Impressions: Number of times your ads been showed.
Reach: Number of people who have seen your ads.
Link clicks: Hopefully this is self-explanatory.
CPC (link): Cost per link click. Notice that I use link clicks, not just cost per click – because the second one even includes clicks on your ad like a comment or like.
CTR %: Click Through Rate. The higher rate you get, usually the cheaper your cost per click will be. Facebook wants to provide relevant content and rewards you if you’re doing it right.
Frequency: How many times a person has seen your ad – impressions divided by reach.
Result: How many conversions you’ve made (the conversion is determined in the first step of your campaign).
Cost per result: Spend divided by result.
Conversion value: If you’re Facebook pixel is tracking that, use that in order to know if your campaign is profitable or not.
ROAS: Return on ad spend. How much are you getting back from each dollar you put in. Keep in mind that even if you’re getting 3 dollars back, you need it to cover more than just your ad spend. In most cases, you have more costs than that.
- Optimize like a king
When your columns are all setup like I talked about in my previous part, then it’s time for optimization. Start with 1 campaign and compare your different ad sets with relevant metrics. Pause bad ones and duplicate good ones to try new ones. Maybe you could target a new interest, make your lookalike bigger or try a complete new one. There are also a lot of other things you can do to optimize your campaigns, to name a few; you’ll find them in Facebook Ads Manager under the tab “division” and by selecting after delivery:
- Time of day (only relevant if you’re running campaigns with lifetime budget)
Facebook’s machine learning is getting better and better, spending your money where it gets the most results – but you better keep an eye of this to make sure you’re not spending money without getting anything back.
Digital Marketing Expert
The second-hand trend is spreading around the world and gaining ground in China, particularly with the weakening of its economy due to the Covid-19 crisis. We look at Xianyu, a Chinese app that provides a second-hand product purchasing platform for the 75.5 million users of Taobao, Alibaba’s e-commerce website.
Since 2019, the second-hand market, which forms the basis of the circular economy, has grown rapidly in China. Whether it is clothing, cars or books, it has become as simple to sell as it is to throw away. According to Bloomberg, the second-hand market achieved a value of 100 billion dollars in 2018, a figure which is set to grow in 2020. According to a survey by Mintel, more than half of urban Chinese buy second-hand goods for environmental reasons.
Tech giants Alibaba and Tencent have taken the lead in this market by developing exchange platforms that enable buyers and sellers to carry out fast, secure and rated transactions. The secret of the success of the circular economy in China is the scoring system introduced by Alibaba, which evaluates citizens over time. It should be noted that with the current epidemic, this scoring system, known as Zhima Credit or Sesame Credit, has been reviewed and relaxed.
Xianyu – Alibaba’s second-hand goods exchange platform
Linking individuals for second-hand sales:
Building on its expertise in online sales and social media, Alibaba has managed to transform Chinese preconceptions about buying second-hand and provide a solution for people on a tight budget. Xianyu, the platform developed by the tech giant within the framework Flutter, makes it possible to sell and/or buy articles that were previously acquired on Taobao, Alibaba’s e-commerce platform.
Goods such as clothes, designer bags, refrigerators, smartphones and cars are sold in this way. According to the product category, the seller must enter information about the state of the item (time used, origin, brand, etc.) and receives an estimation of the sale price.
Recycling and transformation of unsold items
In addition to the buying and selling of second-hand goods, the application provides other functions for recycling. In a few clicks, clothes to be recycled can be retrieved from a private individual, who receives payment in exchange, in order to be resold to partner companies. These partners sell some of the items collected and recycle the rest (about half) to produce industrial or agricultural materials (such as fabrics for greenhouse temperature control and noise-dampening).
Since the platform was launched, 8500 tons of clothing, or around 24 million items, have been recycled.
Xianyu’s popularity is due to its Super App status
Ease of use
Its status as a “Super App”, due to the fact that it combines various recycling functions in a single app, has boosted the platform’s use and popularity. 64% of its 75.5 million users per month only use this platform.
By contrast, in the United States, for example, in order to buy second-hand goods, users have to use several different interfaces or websites, creating an account, entering payment data and so on, each time.
Another advantage is that Xianyu is integrated in Alibaba’s Super App, which is in turn integrated in the Alipay payment system, providing ease of use that makes it significantly more accessible for individuals of all ages. The main users remain millennials, however, with 60% of users born after 1990.
Social and fun side
The Xianyu app is also connected to the gamification functions of Ant Forest, an Alibaba mini-app that enables users to win “green points” to grow virtual trees, which will then be planted in the real world, in China’s arid regions. In 2019, 230,000 trees were planted due to actions carried out on Xianyu.
Social mini-communities have also been created on Xianyu, based on hobbies, with communities for fishing, photography and sport, for example. People belonging to a community can exchange information and advice, and products sold are more easily categorised. There is even a community to buy the products of bloggers and celebrities, or to follow and seek inspiration from their clothing styles.
Trust-based transactions guaranteed by the Zhima scoring system
Payment secured by Alipay
Annual sales on Xianyu achieved a value of 14.4 billion dollars in 2019, and are set to grow in 2020. Transactions on Xianyu are carried out through the Alipay online payment service, as are all of the Alibaba group’s applications.
Users have a virtual wallet, which is credited or debited when the second-hand good purchase is made. However, given that transactions can involve significant sums (for cars and household appliances, for example), it is possible for the seller to receive a deposit to ensure and secure the transaction before the good is delivered.
The amount of the pre-payments and payment deadlines are defined according to the parties’ reliability, which is evaluated by the Zhima Credit scoring system.
Credit scoring system
In order to ensure smooth transactions and honest information about products sold, Xianyu is linked to the Alibaba credit scoring system.
Zhima Credit, also known as Sesame credit, uses an algorithm that evaluates each individual’s level of trust according to their transactions on Alipay, their borrowing habits, bill payment times, late returns of goods rented, etc.
Users are given a score ranging from 350 to 950 points. The higher their score, the more individuals will be considered trustworthy and receive benefits, while a lower score means they have to provide additional information or pay a deposit. For example, if they have a score of above 690, sellers can receive an initial payment for their sale via Alipay of up to $298, before the articles are even collected. In order to carry out transactions on Xianyu, the minimum score necessary is 600.
Relaxed rules due to the coronavirus epidemic
The scoring system is used for other Alibaba applications and covers a multitude of activities in the daily lives of Chinese citizens. Due to health conditions related to the coronavirus, some citizens confined to their homes were unable to return goods rented from various companies. Such actions, which would normally have a negative impact on the score, were not taken into account by the system, which is giving users a “grace period” due to their inability to return goods. However, Sesame Credit does record late returns and asks its users to resume their good habits once the crisis is over.
The platform Xianyu has enabled the emergence of a circular economy in China, based on a scoring system that establishes trust and reliability. Other second-hand goods sales platforms are also available: Zhuan Zhuan has 2 million users per month, and Guazi achieved 50,000 second-hand car sales in 2018.
However, despite all these figures, the Chinese second-hand market still has a long way to go, and remains far behind western markets, where second-hand car sales represent 10% of GDP, compared with 0.6% in China in 2017 (National Bureau of Statistics of China). Significant growth is therefore expected in the coming years.
Beyond acceptance of the concept, there is also growing awareness among Chinese consumers of sustainable development, which is encouraging them to adopt a different attitude to their purchases and consider buying second-hand and recycling. A comprehensive platform, such as Xianyu, which makes buying second-hand goods as fast and easy as buying new products, is helping drive the circular economy.
By using technology to combine the second-hand market with fun games and a social aspect, China’s tech giants are promoting citizens’ awareness of sustainable development and supporting environmental directives introduced.
In the world’s most populous country, to say that the issue of waste sorting is important is an understatement. Statistics show that China produces nearly 10 billion tons of solid waste each year. In addition to growing pollution, failure to process this waste creates an estimated loss of resources of nearly 30 billion RMB, which is more than 4 billion USD. Elsewhere, an increase in the amount of medical waste and poor management of discarded protective masks have been observed during the coronavirus epidemic.
In January 2019, the government introduced drastic and ambitious measures to win the battle of recycling. China’s State Council published a “zero waste” plan, with the objective of achieving 35% recycled waste by 2020 and a ban on plastic bags between now and 2022. This plan promotes the “Internet Plus recycling model”, which integrates new technologies in waste sorting. With 23 million residents, Shanghai was the first city to experiment with the new regulation, which includes the use of officers posted at each sorting zone, as well as significant fines in the event of incorrect waste classification, for both citizens and companies.
Technologies and gamification to educate about sorting
There is a growing number of mini-programmes and fun solutions aimed at educating citizens about environmental challenges. They encourage users to carry out actions in order to win points and rewards.
VitrellaCore: getting waste sorted with virtual reality
In 2019, in Shanghai, free-to-access virtual reality video game machines were placed in public spaces in order to simulate sorting experiences. Wearing a virtual reality headset, users are presented with four rubbish recycling bins and can win points by discarding the waste that appears in the correct bin. The game, which is still available in streaming, was met with viral success when the government announced the new regulations. Users see this game, which was designed by the company VitrellaCore, as an educational tool to reduce time spent on this task.
Education through waste sorting mini-apps
In 2020, 280 applications related to the issue of sorting were available on WeChat, compared with 130 on Apple Store. The majority of them represent the most common types of waste, which users must discard in the appropriate bin in order to reach the next level, avoid losing lives, and so on.
Recycling innovations from tech giant Alibaba
Focus on Ant Forest
Since 2016, the mini-app Ant Forest, created by tech giant Alibaba, has encouraged millions of users to reduce their carbon footprint through playing, by analysing their environmental actions via Alipay (Alibaba’s online payment application). Each time they spend money in a positive way for the environment, they help make virtual trees grow. For example, by choosing the “without lid” option when ordering a meal delivery through the application Ele.me (China’s answer to Deliveroo), the player wins points. Once integrated in the game Ant Forest, partner applications observed much greater participation (multiplied by 5 to 7). Alibaba has promised to replant each virtual tree in order to regreen China’s most arid regions.
Reflecting the success of this mini-app, in 2019, Alipay counted 500 million users, with 122 million trees planted in total so far, and 7.9 million tons of CO2 avoided. The application also received the United Nations award “Champions of the Earth”.
The recycling option of the application Taobao
Through the e-commerce application Taobao, Alibaba has developed ￼a waste recognition system based on artificial intelligence. Users can take a photo of waste with the application, which shows them the corresponding bin.
In total, Alipay offers more than 70 mini-programmes related to waste recycling and even makes it possible to resell recyclable waste online via the e-commerce giant’s platform.
Alibaba recycling stations
Users of Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms can win points that earn discounts on future orders, by recycling their packaging at one of the 75,000 stations that have been set up by the group and its partners. Consumers scan a QR code that is then transformed into “green points”.
Bins fitted with technology
Facial recognition to win discount vouchers
In order to open bins, each Chinese citizen has a specific code and, in certain communities, bins open using facial recognition. This makes it possible to monitor users and encourage them to recycle by offering purchase vouchers and promotional offers on consumer products.
In the district of Xicheng in Beijing, 2100 residents have signed up to the programme.
Smart bins that sort waste
The startup Xiao Huang Gou (‘little yellow dog’ in Mandarin) has developed bins that are able to sort waste using artificial intelligence.
Users must log in to the application and scan a QR code to open the bin. The discarded waste is then identified by visual recognition, weighed and sorted. The market value of the recycled waste is evaluated in real time and paid into the user’s WeChat wallet. Waste is then delivered to various specialist recycling organisations by the startup’s refuse collectors, who receive an alert from a surveillance system when a bin is 80% full. In the space of a year, the 10,000 smart bins placed in 33 Chinese cities have collected nearly 4000 tons of waste supplied by 2.6 million users.
The impact of the coronavirus crisis on medical waste recycling
With the current Covid-19 epidemic, China is facing a new challenge in the area of waste management. While initiatives introduced have reduced waste and speeded up sorting, there is an issue regarding disposable medical equipment. With a total of 1.3 billion inhabitants in China and a mask worn each week, more than 10 billion masks have been discarded in recent months.
While the epidemic has reduced the country’s carbon footprint due to the stoppage of activities, the immediate challenge faced now is to deal with this medical waste and plan for cases of pollution due to masks that may still be contaminated, as on the beaches of Hong Kong, where more than one hundred masks were found at the beginning of March. Once again, technology has a role to play here: smart bins specially designed to retrieve masks have already been introduced in a district of Shenzhen. Residents can avoid all contact with the bin thanks to a QR code and facial recognition technology. In addition, the bin indicates the temperature of the person who discarded the mask. The company that created this technology has received an order from Wuhan and is stepping up production to satisfy the city’s demand.
When you create a strategy for your e-commerce business, and the main goal is to provide a seamless customer experience, I believe there are some key areas you need to consider. By doing so, you will be able to increase your chances of creating a Unified Commerce strategy that enables customers to shop on their own terms.
Using this checklist provides you with an ideal oppounity to approach your ecommerce strategy from both your customers’ and your company’s perspective. Here is the checklist in 4 different steps:
1. Start with a vision
I recommend that you start with a vision; where you want to be in the future. This vision should be attractive, and reachable. A really good vision also includes a purpose for the company. It could also include figures that motivate your vision. These can be hard figures, meaning numbers, or soft figures such as a Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI). Your vision will benefit from being “visualised”, and it is also wise to include the benefits for your customers.
I believe you should include the right stakeholders at this stage and get them involved them when it comes to working on the vision. And last but not least; anchor the vision amongst your top management. As e-commerce is the core strategy for many companies and it affects many parts of an organisation, this should not be too difficult.
2. Perform an As-Is analysis
In order to know where you’re going, a good start is an As-Is analysis. Tools you can use for this include the SWOT model (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), covering where you are now and where you want to go (Vision). You can also use the PEST model (Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural and Technological) to analyse your status quo.
It’s important to understand the situation concerning your legacy system. Therefore you need to map out the existing system flora and what the key integrations are, since these will be an important foundation in the next phase. This is also important as it helps you understand what’s working well and what’s not and why.
3. Conduct a Unified Commerce analysis
When you carry out your Unified Commerce analysis, there are certain areas you should check you have covered – or confirm that there is no need to cover. However, these areas consist of different opportunities, functionalities, complexity, channel integrations, and the need for system support and a lot more.
Unified Commerce is all about providing an optimised shopping experience across all touchpoints and contacts with the customer. Therefore every area should end up with identified activities, functionalities, definitions of how to fulfill customer needs or likewise. This allows yout to estimate, prioritise and budget what to do in the next steps.
This is what I recommend you go through when conducting your Unified Commerce analysis:
- Product information management
- Order management
- Customer relationship management
- User experience
- Digital marketing
- Digital in store
- Point of sales
- Analytics / analysis
- Customer service
- Cross channel
- Requirement gathering & analysis
4. Build the business case
An important part of your Unified Commerce strategy involves building a business case. What are the benefits, opportunities and the value of the proposed strategy and activities? How can you measure success? How can you make the case and what does it cost in the short and long term? And what resources are needed?
When it comes to a Unified Commerce strategy you can benefit from thinking about it as a program and in terms of a roadmap where you need to do things in a certain order. You may for example need to think about an infrastructure for certain areas before you can take the next step. This is common when it comes to a more extensive strategy that has a major impact on the organisation.
Depending on how complex your strategy is to implement, you will be able to choose between different models. You can use tools such as a/an: effect model, cost benefit analysis, ROI (return on investment), business impact analysis, business model canvas, business case priority model, and more. You can also include measurement methods such as a customer satisfaction index, an employee satisfaction index, internal efficiency and more.
Good luck with your Unified Commerce strategy. If you are interested in more information on how to be successful with a Unified Commerce strategy you can download our white paper on this topic at www.starrepublic.com where all these areas are covered in depth.
CBO Star Republic
The three letters ‘RPA’ have been drawing a lot of attention for some time now, but do you fully understand the concept behind them? Robotic Process Automation – a robot that reproduces human movements in order to carry out repetitive tasks – has a bright future ahead of it. I will begin by telling you a story, which I am sure many of you will be familiar with, at least in part.
A CLEAR OBSERVATION
As a sales representative, I have a privileged position that puts me in contact with many organisations (including public and private-sector companies of all sizes), in many business sectors. Everywhere, including in companies where I have worked, I have met employees at all levels of the organisation who carry out time-consuming, repetitive tasks, seen as having little added value. They may involve transferring data from one system to another (Excel to Salesforce, or SAP to a business application, for example), a series of steps to publish a report or monthly analysis, or retrieval of information on the web or in emails, in order to format, store and process it. I am specifically talking about very simple things here.
This time spent represents a significant portion of people’s working day (some studies estimate the figure to be as high as 30%!). Such tasks therefore prevent people from concentrating on high-added-value activities (those that are directly related to their role). In some cases, people are even required to perform them outside of their “normal” working day, on evenings and weekends.
According to Gartner, by the end of 2022, 85% of organisations will have deployed RPA in one form or another (there are several forms, with varying levels of sophistication).
WHY THE ENTHUSIASM SURROUNDING RPA?
Most of us have come across macros and macro experts, which have been around for a long time. Generally, macro developers have expertise in a specific process and look for a simple way to transpose this expertise into a tool.
For me, new RPA platforms offer three main advantages:
- They are agnostic in terms of the technology environments involved in the process to be automated and have a wide variety of “connectors” to all of these technologies;
- They are not very intrusive. RPA projects use the security environment already present in the information system. Each software robot can be considered as a user, to which rights are granted, in the same way as any other human user of the information system;
- The development studio is mainly based on graphic components. More often than not, this involves configuration rather than development work, strictly speaking.
On the other hand, a certain number of criticisms can be made in relation to an insufficient consideration of information system urbanisation, as well as the risks of falling into the negative effects of “shadow IT”. These criticisms are valid, but it is also true that IT departments are unable to address 100% of business needs at the same time. Furthermore, not all automation projects necessarily generate a return on investment if the aim is to address them at the core of the IS. RPA can be an extremely interesting tactical response in this context.
In order to be convinced of this, simply proceed in a gradual, incremental manner. In order to make initial projects a success, begin by identifying simple workflow processes (a few basic series of tasks), which require a lot of man hours, and which are repetitive over time (daily or weekly frequency for example). Such projects will bring an extremely rapid ROI. Building on this experience, you can then move towards more sophisticated scenarios, with very high added value, but which require a greater command of the technology used and involve more complex governance (cross-department, etc.).
At the end of the day, RPA should be chosen with a pragmatic outlook. And you will need to maintain this pragmatism throughout its implementation and use.
We’d all got used to screens with a white background. And then along came Dark Mode, giving us black screens and fresh, new habits. This trend, which has emerged over the last few years, shows no sign of stopping. It’s available on many of the best-known apps: Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Google and its services (Gmail, Maps), Apple, Twitter, YouTube, Slack, and Wikipedia…. and WhatsApp even just unveiled its dark mode on 22 January 2020.
But where did Dark Mode come from?
Dark Mode isn’t just a fashionable fad but rather a user-friendly fix. All across the world, the first thing many users – particularly young people – do when they wake up is check their smartphone. It’s the same in the evening; they’re all glued to their smartphones just before they hit the hay. Some even wake up in the middle of the night and mindlessly check their digital dummy.
This is where Dark Mode comes in, easing their tired eyes with lower screen brightness and less blue light, reducing their battery use, and limiting some of the negative impacts of screen use.
User behaviour drives us digital service providers to make our apps more user-friendly, plus provide optimised messaging. It’s a no-brainer: Dark Mode is the answer.
And designers LOVE black: it’s “classy” and “ergonomically effective”! On a black background, colours are easier to make out, brighter and more attractive.
So does every app have to include Dark Mode?
Yes, I think we all need to gear our products to our users. We need to take a look at how and when our current and prospective customers use our services. For instance, are they active in the evening or very early in the morning? Do they check their tablet, laptop or smartphone at these times of day? If so, we should switch to Dark Mode on these devices.
Dark Mode has also popped up in our inboxes on iOS and Android, Gmail, and Outlook, with each of these messaging services getting it more or less “light” (sorry, couldn’t resist!), because each system has its own technical rules. This is where digital service providers come in. Nothing must be left to chance: it takes more than just the click of a button to switch our inboxes over to dark mode. Making e-mail as effective on a black background as a white one tests our ability to create and optimise displays. E-mail on a black background must be as appealing and attractive as possible.
We need to design “Dark Mode” and “Light Mode” to provide an optimised browsing experience in both modes! This means getting creative, and optimising lights and darks to get just one message across clearly and effectively. The key rules? Review your methods. Be careful when mixing colours with the background. Play around with PNG images on transparent backgrounds (to make logos or calls to action stand out, etc.). Also watch out for coloured lettering: you might want to add a default white border and, most important of all, test out any new features. These are the technical rules that determine your artistic direction but every e-mail requires individual analysis.
In conclusion, Dark Mode isn’t just a passing trend but rather a fresh fixture in our lives that’s here to improve our browsing experience. I guess Dark Mode’s mainly good for apps, tools and interactive services.
Artistic director SQLI
The arrival of a new generation, who wants greater flexibility and mobility, is bringing about unprecedented changes in working methods. Compelled to follow this trend so as to remain attractive, businesses are gradually shifting their focus to a new priority: the deployment of a digital workplace. This modern, digital environment is reliant on the joint efforts of a number of complementary players and in particular HR.
This digitisation of the workspace encompasses many different definitions and realities. For 74% of French businesses, it is a unique communications app with centralised access to all business applications, and for 75%, it is a mobile office (a mobile working environment via tablet, smartphone, etc.) offering a multitude of applications.
However you choose to define it, your objective is the same: to enable your staff to work together in a more flexible and mobile way, from anywhere and from any terminal. When it comes to deploying this digital environment, 97% of businesses see IT as the driving force. However, don’t underestimate the role of another player – the HR Director. As the main contact for employees and guarantor of the link between management, teams and the IT department, HR ensures the quality of the employee experience. This experience may be radically altered by a working environment which is itself disrupted. If you do not plan your digital workplace project transversally, you risk jeopardising employee commitment and the overall performance of your business.
Right from the start of a Digital Workplace project, HR plays a key role alongside the IT. The digital workplace brings with it profound changes in working habits. The technological challenges undertaken by the IT Director must run alongside the implementation of change, which falls more within the remit of HR. So new uses must be defined collaboratively. The HR Director is the teams’ direct point of contact. They can communicate employees’ concrete needs with regard to this deployment and assist the It Director in identifying the most effective and appropriate uses for each business unit. Some people, for example, will express a desire for a collaborative working platform such as Office 365, while others will want to go further, with the installation of a digital assistant or automatic speech recognition software. It is through active participation in the co-definition of these uses that the HR Director can help the IT Director to introduce a digital working environment which is appropriate for employees, and which meets their need for flexibility and efficiency.
The introduction of a digital workplace also has an organisational impact and requires the redefinition of certain roles in teams. Often overlooked amid technological rollouts, these changes may nevertheless undermine an organisation if they are not taken into account and explained to employees. Everyone must be able to find their place and HR Directors are a valuable resource when it comes to co-defining these new roles. Do set up a forum for HR and the IT Director to discuss the organisational impact and their consequences, so that everyone’s role can be clarified and explained.
Getting teams on board and unlocking potential
One of the risks you run when installing this digital workplace – beyond the initial trial and error with the technology – is the possibility of meeting resistance. As a channel of communication for teams, HR managers are a strategic cog for getting around this acceptance problem and making collective intelligence the backbone of the project. The Communications Department can also be a valuable ally.
The first step is the presentation – via HR, the IT Director and the Communications Department combined – of the digital platform project to the teams. You could even organise an open question and answer session to dispel certain doubts, convince people of the effectiveness of the new applications for collaborative working, or identify those who are most motivated by the concept. These people might be prepared to act as ambassadors or local liaison people. They could then introduce and support the change internally, show their colleagues the benefits of this new platform and pass on the best applications of these new uses, so as to motivate even the most reluctant among them.
In the early stages, you might also consider involving employee representative bodies. Working in direct contact with HR officers, they can pass on the on-the-ground constraints and imperatives which need to be taken into account by the IT Director.
Training in the new tools and associated issues
78% of IT Directors see training as the best means of getting team members to embrace digital workplace tools. After team engagement, this is the second cornerstone for a calm and smooth-running deployment. And HR Directors once again play an important part in supporting staff by teaching employees how to use this space and take advantage of it to save time and increase flexibility.
The introduction of a digital workspace will mean that your employees will have to deal with new security issues specific to digital technology, such as data protection (the need to change passwords on a regular basis, etc.), compliance with GDPR, or secure data storage. Here again, it is vital that the IT Director and HR Director speak with one voice and take advantage of their synergies. As guarantor for data protection, the IT Director can identify all these challenges before and from the beginning of the project, while HR has the resources to identify the key people who need to be made aware.
These two roles should be seen as a single team whose complementarities will help you to see things more clearly and ensure a successful digital transformation in your organisation.
Almost exclusively linked to cryptocurrencies until 2016-2017, blockchain technology was born of a desire to create a virtual currency: the Bitcoin (the first block was created on the 3rd January 2009). Other blockchain applications have emerged and grown, making this technology more concrete, and relevant to meeting needs and creating opportunities. A growing number of companies throughout the world are now beginning to see the benefits it offers.
Traceability is one of the applications of this technology that have been developed. A blockchain is by nature an unchanging and highly secure record; any information recorded in it becomes inalterable and remains accessible as long as the blockchain exists. First, there was ‘public blockchain’, so called because all of the information in the record can be accessed by all users. Then, in 2016, ‘private blockchain’ appeared. This is an extension of public blockchain, with two new ideas:
- Access subject to strict rules (the term ’permissioned blockchain’ is used);
- This makes it possible to carry out transactions that cannot be seen by all participants; only those involved in the transaction.
Whereas public blockchain was highly B2C-oriented, private blockchain has found a role in B2B applications.
Is a private blockchain still a blockchain?
Being private does not mean that a blockchain is no longer distributed or traceable, nor that the data it contains becomes “modifiable”. On the contrary, because a private blockchain generally has fewer participants than a public blockchain, it can implement consensus mechanisms that offer tighter security. It also enables the creation of a consortium (the group of nodes involved in validating transactions is a sub-assembly of the blockchain) and, therefore, the creation of governance in order to establish rules for its operation and use.
Here is an illustration with two examples of applications:
- A company formed of several entities wants to draw on the benefits of a blockchain to monitor its manufacturing processes and store official documents, but does not necessarily want to share access to its data with other companies. It deploys an internal blockchain, with the number of nodes it needs to ensure it is resilient. It can choose a consensus mechanism that is oriented towards being “failure-proof” rather than “fraud-proof”. This is based on the assumption that the company is unlikely to carry out an attack on itself.
- The companies within a group have shared interests and would like to carry out transactions between themselves through commercial agreements. In this case, it is in their interest to choose a consensus mechanism that is able to detect fraud attempts, and each company will represent a node of the blockchain. It will be possible to share some data in a transparent manner, while other data will remain private. For example: company A signs a contract with company B to order products; B signs a contract with C for their transport; A, B and C establish a contract to oversee the Order-Manufacturing-Delivery cycle. In this way, A does not know the prices for transport between B and C, while C does not know the prices of parts ordered by A. As for companies D, E, and so on, they have no visibility of these contracts. Similarly, if a new company wants to join the blockchain, this will have to be approved by a majority of the parties already present. Consensus also applies in this case.
What are the applications of private blockchain?
Blockchain offers clear benefits when it is necessary to demonstrate the origin, authenticity and history of data. Furthermore, the use of smart contracts enables the establishment of a contractual framework for the execution of business rules. This idea may seem puzzling, because it is no longer a signed document but the code contained in the smart contract that serves as proof. There are many potential applications:
- Production chain (traceability of all the production stages for an item)
- Distribution chain (compliance with commercial contracts, prices, delivery deadlines, etc.)
- Storage of official documents (diplomas, accounting documents, deeds of sale, etc.)
- Insurance contracts (compensation paid out when specific conditions are satisfied)
- Traceability (origin of meat in a lasagne dish, etc.)
- Internet of things (location of goods in transport, compliance with the cold chain, etc.
Blockchain is amazing! Can we use it for everything?
Not all projects are compatible with blockchain. Seeking advice from experts and using questionnaires are excellent ways to determine whether or not a project could benefit from being developed in a blockchain.
As with any architecture, blockchain has advantages and restrictions that must be considered when looking at a new project:
- It is not a database. It grows constantly (storage can be a problem)
- It forgets nothing (GDPR compliance can be difficult to implement)
- It often requires exposure to the Internet (network security is therefore an important consideration)
- It means that the data it contains must be shared with others (you must give up exclusive ownership)
- It requires specific skills (which means training)
- It is not natively designed to interact with an IS (you will need to set up middleware)
- It is a relatively young technology (development and integration tools lack maturity, which means that complementary development will once again be required)
However, we are seeing the emergence of BaaS (Blockchain as a Service) solutions developed by some major publishers (such as Microsoft Azure, IBM and Oracle), which help address some of these restrictions. Gateways enabling interoperability between several blockchains are also beginning to be developed.
Blockchain has demonstrated its reliability and robustness in the long term; it has a bright future ahead of it in the business world and many potential applications. Hosting solutions are growing in number (AWS, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, etc.), and it is now commonplace for companies to consider this architecture when looking at new projects. So let us embrace innovation!
SQLI is here to help with your projects, from initial studies to the run phase, with its expertise and experience in both technical and operational areas. We can also help you with the Proof of Concept, based on a use case, in order to ensure that a blockchain fully meets your needs, and prepare for the development of your teams’ skills.
Technical architect SQLI