5 ways COVID-19 is impacting ecommerce

“What has been the impact of the global pandemic on ecommerce?”

My usual reply would be that a crisis acts as a catalyst. It accelerates some of the anticipated ecommerce trends and places digital transformation at the top of most corporate agendas.

The big shock

The global pandemic has forced customers to change their habits. Physical shopping restrictions and lockdowns have changed typical buying behaviour and driven (even more) customers online. And since businesses inevitably follow their customers, the online range of products and services is getting more diverse every day.

When COVID-19 was first declared a global pandemic by the WHO in March of 2020, most companies hesitated. Uncertainty caused them to freeze budgets and reduce spending. While at the same time, they acknowledged the need to invest in a (more performant) digital channel – which could make up for their loss in regular business. So as soon as companies recovered from the initial shock, they started acting.

I have seen businesses adapt their strategy quickly. And in companies where digital transformation was not (yet) on the agenda, it became a top priority overnight.

Here are the questions that I believe are being asked and what organisations are focussing on:

  • Where are our customers? – A trend to go direct to consumers
  • Where is our stock? – A renewed focus on supply and inventory management
  • What is our purpose? – A review of corporate values
  • Why would customers love our brands? – A shift towards empathetic and affinity marketing
  • How quickly can we adapt? – A re-design of the solution architecture

 

  1. Where are our customers?

The closing of physical shops does not only affect retailers. It also impacts the rest of the supply and production chain. Wholesalers and manufacturers experience a clear disruption in their supply and demand cycle.

This uncertainty pushes companies to look for alternative markets or solutions to source and sell their products. One option for brands is to try and reach consumers directly. They extend (or abandon) their traditional partnership model and bypass (or eliminate) the need for wholesale or retail partners. This aspiration can take on many forms:

  • enter marketplaces
  • build (or extend) an own e-commerce platform (B2C or B2B2C)
  • build (or extend) an own network of dedicated physical ‘brand stores’

That last option was clearly on the rise before COVID kicked in but has now obviously slowed down. However, the effort of building a shop network now seems to have shifted to setting up virtual brand stores on the major online marketplace platforms. These so-called ‘shop-in-shops’ are getting increasingly popular, such as for example the Beats or Lego stores on Amazon.

This ‘Direct-to-Consumer’ trend started some years ago (look at Nike’s Consumer Direct Offense or a  similar initiative from L’Oréal) but is now clearly accelerating. The pandemic seems to have lifted most of the reservations business had about this model. Instead, they now are now embracing it as a new distribution channel. And it gives them increased control of the overall brand experience.

Yet, for this channel to be effective, companies must implement new pricing models and delivery processes. The shift from bulk pricing and transport to pricing and shipping individual packages, requires companies to rethink their business model. And they often need to supplement their own delivery fleet – which again leads to new partnerships with logistics and delivery service providers.

 

  1. Where is our stock?

The COVID-19 crisis is challenging supply chain and inventory management in many ways.

We all witnessed how supermarkets struggled to keep up with demands for food and other essential supplies (such as toilet paper 😉). Other companies faced a surplus in raw materials due to a falling demand for their finished goods. And then there were the factories that had to close as part of lockdown measures.

Each of these businesses needed to act rapidly to protect its operations and cope with disrupted supply chains. Companies realize they need (better) control over these complex inventory streams. To anticipate potential disruption and respond to changing demands, they need strong data and analytics capabilities.

Increased inventory visibility is also crucial to improve customer satisfaction. More specifically in ecommerce it reduces the number of abandoned carts. Customers want to know stock levels, stocks locations and delivery times.

The pandemic has certainly succeeded in placing (improved) inventory management higher on the agenda. Companies will invest in providing accurate information on product availability to customers.

Some organisations go as far as bringing (part of) the outsourced production process in-house (a strategy known as Vertical Integration). But that is clearly not a quick and short-term crisis response. It is rather a long-term change in strategy and vision. Apple for example decided to stop using processors from Intel and replace them with its own chips.

 

  1. What is our purpose?

Before the pandemic, both companies and consumers alike, had taken for granted the fact that their basic needs and demands were being easily and instantly met. A wide variety of products and services was assumed to be always available.

But then the ‘pause’ button was pressed …

The pandemic has given people the opportunity and time to consider the impact of their pre-Covid behaviour. Customers reflect more consciously on how, when and where they consume. And there is likely to be a significant shift towards products and brands that help customers to be more responsible towards themselves, others, society, and the environment.

The significant impact that e-commerce operations have on the planet and society are conflicting with these growing expectations for sustainability and will continue to raise concerns. Think about the seemingly endless parcel streams due to (all too) easy and free returns policies. Companies have started to blacklist ‘serial returners’ (though maybe not necessarily from an ecological conviction) and we’re likely to see more scrutiny in this field that has been wrongly overlooked by many eCommerce retailers.

The Covid crisis has also created a sense of community – “we are all in this together” – which undoubtedly will raise people’s expectation of businesses being more socially responsible as well. There is a growing public awareness and protest against companies that are considered unethical, such as the increasing criticism of Amazon for example. It even led to calls for a Black Friday boycott of Amazon.

Companies that recognize these challenges have started to reshape their organizations.  They are shifting towards more genuine and authentic ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (or CSR) and also adopting this approach in their strategic marketing efforts, aiming to have more empathetic and real-time engagement with their customers.

 

  1. Why would customers love our brands?

Affinity grows when customers see a particular brand as inherently superior because of the connection they have with it. But to get there, brands must be perceived as authentic and provide experiences that resonate with individual needs and expectations. Organisations can choose to be ‘a force for good’. But finding that delicate balance between profitability and a good and authentic customer experience, is not an easy feat. By helping business to become more resilient, and strengthening society, the goal is to embed purpose throughout an organization.

But what does each individual customer find important? Even though deep insights into customer behaviours and affinities typically exist within a company’s sales or service team, that knowledge is difficult to exploit online. So, companies are modelling online customer profiles to support their personalization efforts. These profiles help them achieve the high degree of understanding they need. And marketers are also increasingly adopting digital tools and artificial intelligence (AI) to assist them in these efforts and produce actionable insights from large data sets.

Social media also happens to be a very effective way of helping to forge these profiles. At the same time, it is important not to mistake Facebook likes or Twitter followers for affinity. Affinity itself is a more meaningful connection than the mere click of a button. Organisations should complement typical performance-driven strategies with a brand awareness approach, as suggested by my colleagues from Wax.

At the same time, social media companies know they are a gateway to customers. And they are now taking it one step further by blending ecommerce with their platforms. The recent launch of Facebook Shops (a partnership with Shopify) is following in the footsteps of China’s wildly popular WeChat social commerce platform. Similarly, Facebook is rolling out more and more shopping features on Instagram. Brands can now create their own e-commerce stores on these platforms and drive traffic through targeted social media campaigns.

 

  1. How quickly can we adapt?

Businesses want to ramp up their digital operations and they want to do it quickly. They need (more) agile and flexible software solutions that can adjust rapidly and help them serve new touchpoints overnight.

That’s where API driven architecture and server-less microservices come in. They help teams work more independently, for example by decoupling backend and frontend applications. They allow organisations to deliver new features and prototypes faster and improves the integration within the existing landscape. And by leveraging cloud solutions, companies are ready for unplanned peaks in demand with more scalable and reliable systems. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend this excellent whitepaper on Microservices, written by my colleagues from Osudio.

A key example of how microservices can help organisations extend, customize, and scale their operations are payment services. COVID-19 has caused a rapid decline in cash usage as lockdown is keeping customers at home (+ there is a perceived infection risk from handling cash). As a result, all forms of electronic payment have quickly gained widespread adoption. And companies have realized they need payment processing anywhere and anytime. Yet, payments is too critical a service to tie in with your ecommerce platform data, code, and upgrade cycle. You should in fact want your payment provider to oversee timely patches and releases, always ensuring privacy and security.

As payments become more digitalized, they are also likely to become more ‘embedded’ into customer purchasing journeys, causing less friction and help automate repetitive buying. Contactless payments and digital wallets in particular are getting increasingly popular among smart phone users – which might in turn lead to a decline in card usage.

 

***

Conclusion

Organizations are acting with a sense of urgency to moderate the damage the pandemic has done to their businesses, their customers, their people, and their partners. Their current focus is primarily short term, but many of the measures they are taking will most likely be the foundation for future sustainability and growth.

Let’s hope we all come out stronger.

MANUFACTURING: DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IS IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT DATA MANAGEMENT (1 / 2)

With global supply chains and the complex landscape of suppliers and vendors, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted manufacturers the hardest. As digital becomes the lifeline for many organizations today, Covid-19 is fast-tracking digital transformation worldwide. As the driver for digital transformation, Master Data Management (MDM) lets manufacturers create tangible business value out of their data.

These are challenging times for manufacturers. Amidst the non-stop news shaking up global economies, from trade wars to Brexit, the arrival of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) to regulatory pressures such as the GDPR and digital disruption, the coronavirus is piling even more pressure on the manufacturers. Their biggest challenge lies in preparing for the post-Covid world.

The situation therefore requires them to re-engineer business processes to meet this fluctuating demand and rework their entire supply chain so that their organisation is ready for the next disruption. Digital transformation, driven by data, will become critical in this regard. As a driver of this transformation, Master Data Management (MDM) helps manufacturers extract tangible business value from their data.

As a single source of truth, MDM allows manufacturers to define, manage, centralize, organize, categorize, localize, synchronize and enrich all their master data.

By creating an ecosystem of quality data that’s accessible to everyone along the supply chain, manufacturers will not only have a head start on their competitors, but they’ll also be lean and agile in the run for business in the digital post-Covid world. Whether it’s for e-commerce, D2C, vendor management, supplier onboarding, faster production or innovation.

MDM: a unique and reliable source of data for better operational management of manufacturers

Rather than relying on data stored in different systems and locations, manufacturers can use MDM as a single, central repository for gathering and integrating supplier information along with critical internal data. By leveraging a single view of relationships, you can optimize production and reduce the costs of products sold.

MDM provides a single solution to manage each step in the entire value chain. It cuts through disparate data and links information together that delivers actionable insights into the full supply chain. You can start with product design and assembly, from the computer chip that goes into a smart appliance to the water that goes into liquid cleaning products, all the way through to production and delivery.

With quality data as your driving force, you can develop new models and processes for building, managing and shipping products with quality data as your driving force. Whether producing automobiles or packaged food ingredients, manufacturers need precise, timely and consistent data that feeds multiple systems for warehouse management, inventory management, supply chain, shipping and packaging.

As a common, trusted data repository, MDM ensures that the product manager and the sales manager look at the same data sets when making strategic decisions.

The Luxury story in the face of Covid-19 (Part II)

“How can I be of assistance today, Sir?”

This typical front-of-store welcome has become synonymous with the luxury brand industry, setting the scene for the personal care and attention to follow. It suggests no request will be too much trouble and customer satisfaction is paramount to the company’s ethos.

VIP treatment; personal calls when a limited item is in stock; the one-to-one service where expert stylists help you pick out a whole new wardrobe: luxury brands have always been a step ahead when it comes to the personalised customer experience.

But what happens when these face-to-face services are no longer available to these brands?

In Part 2 of our Luxury series, we explore how businesses in this space have navigated the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and how digital is the key to their future (Read Part here).

Personal attention and experiences, digital style.

  • Virtual appointments

If the customers aren’t allowed in, or can’t make it to a physical store, what’s the solution? Bring the store to the customer.

While this has be done to some extent with digital platforms being an extension of the brick and mortar store, virtual appointments take this another step further.

During the early months of the pandemic and with physical stores forced to shut, many “switched-on” luxury brand retailers turned to appointment scheduling technology to give customers the chance to book appointments and talk to experts on the phone or on video.

In May, following its early lockdown home delivery success and ‘buy now pay later’ payment solutions with Redbox partner Klarna, Brompton Bicycles launched its Live In-Store Expert operation. This browser-based live video call service allowed customers to talk and connect with staff at physical retail stores.

Part of the brand’s past success was built on the in-store experience where customers were able to talk to knowledgeable staff who could help them find the right bike for their needs.

With thousands of pounds being spent on some two-wheeled machines, being able to see them in action, learn how quickly they can be folded for accessibility on the commute, or to understand frame size in relation to rider height, are hugely important factors.

The new Brompton initiative gave customers the chance to speak to and watch experts demonstrate all of the latest bikes, clothing and accessories, as well as get personal, tailored advice on the spot. Staff, meanwhile, were only able to hear customers, rather than see them, to protect their privacy.

Although production initially dropped as some suppliers shut down, initiatives such as this helped sales soar, with web traffic up by 62 per cent and five times as many online sales.

In June, after the UK’s first lockdown had ended but some restrictions were kept in place, luxury department store Selfridges launched its own personal shopping appointments for fashion or beauty, via video calls.

Digital services included virtual gift advice and Instagram beauty tutorials, while video-enabled personal shopping ensured ‘regular’ customers would still be able to connect further with the brand and receive the care and attention to which they were accustomed.

Global fashion brand Gucci began offering personalised virtual experiences for customers, giving them a virtual trip to a faux luxury store where staff livestream from a replica showroom and bring items to screen for them to look at.

Rdv virtuel

The Gucci virtual experience. Source : voguebusiness.com

Connection to these services vary from brand-to-brand. Customers can sign-up for virtual appointments through different channels such as social, chat, website, app, or switchboard, usually picking a time that suits them, sometimes with questions about what services they are interested in ahead of time. They will often receive a reminder in the form of text or email. When on their call, staff can supervise like they would in store, before offering assistance with their online order.

 

With customers clearly enjoying these digital interactions with their favourite luxury brands and companies spending large amounts of money on getting the technology and services right, expect them to continue after lockdown ends. While it won’t take away from the real face-to-face personal experiences and attention, many customers like the convenience of being able to make these connections from anywhere at any time. Luxury brands should take these ideas onboard and invest in the technology and training of staff to ensure they get it right – and are not left behind as the digital landscape continues to evolve at pace.

 

  • Thinking outside the box: apps, to red carpet treatment

Few sectors have been as hard hit as the travel industry since the pandemic started, with the UN predicting losses of up to £3.3trillion (€3.7 trillion) over the past year.

But luxury travel providers have been among the quickest to turn to digital or think outside the box in a bid to get things moving again.

Christian Clerc, president of The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts says he has always stood by the philosophy that, “every interaction with a guest is an opportunity”.

But with real face-to-face connections becoming more difficult or even impossible in some countries, the company has ramped up its digital offerings and ensured customers have an even wider selection of choices to enhance their experiences.

Firstly, the company was quick to take note of the growing remote working trend and the obstacles facing customers who want short holidays. Guests who want to extend their stay to more than a month have been offered a host of additional benefits, as well as a designated concierge to ensure they are not only looked after, but stay as safe as possible.

The Four Seasons Mobile App and Chat replaces a real hotel guide and allows customers to keep physical interactions with staff to a minimum, giving them the ability to make and manage reservations, sort airport transfers, arrange room service and make housekeeping requests all from their phone.

If required, a new Four Seasons Private Jet Experience can take customers to their destination, with a full onboard team including chef and physician. For added peace of mind, the plane’s interior is equipped with a state-of-the-art hospital grade air filtration system that renews the cabin air every two to three minutes and removes almost 100percent of particles, bacteria and viruses.

Application

The application of Four Seasons. Source : fourseasons.com

The innovation and enterprise showed by the brand is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a luxury experience.

Taking away the need for physical face-to-face communication through apps and digital means is the very minimum brands should be facilitating. Finding other solutions to go the extra mile and add real value for both loyal and new customers is more important than ever.

 

The evolving world of luxury content

The luxury market has long been associated with heritage, tradition and a certain mystique that helps create an aspirational appeal.

But 2020 was the year that the industry went mainstream with some of its content, as online gaming, virtual products and different social media strategies were explored.

Chinese consumers accounted for 90 percent of the global luxury market growth in 2019, according to Bain. But with the pandemic stopping the usual flow of foreign travel and slowing spending in China itself, luxury brands were quick to open up their market to different demographics.

Lockdowns and store closures around the world also forced brands to find different ways to showcase their products and market themselves.

Lucy Yeomans, former editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, launched gaming app Drest at the end of 2019, making players fashion editors. Gamers are given selections of outfits and set challenges such as dressing models with other players judging the look. Many of the clothes are also available to buy and luxury brands including Gucci, Stella McCartney and Prada have been involved.

Luxurypart2

Dutch start-up The Fabricant, artist Johanna Jaskowska and company Dapper Labs also sold a digital dress for $9,500 on the blockchain in 2019 – with the creators tailoring it for the buyer without the item ever being ‘physical.’

With the huge success and money involved in Esports, where online teams and athletes compete for millions and boast huge armies of followers, digital worlds are commanding and generating their own wealth.

Last year Gucci released its own platform to let users design virtual footwear and try them on using augmented reality, with the company believing that luxury fashion has to seamlessly integrate with the digital in order to evolve.

With over 2billion gamers worldwide, it comes as no surprise to find out that the fashion brand is even designing products with games and virtual realities in mind – with the thinking they could work as a marketing tool but also have value as digital goods on their own.

“The virtual world is creating its own economy,” Gucci CMO told Fast Company. “The worlds of fashion and gaming are colliding. We’re approaching gaming with a sense of experimentation, because this will put us in a good position to be ahead of the trends when they become ingrained.”

Louis Vuitton and Estee Lauder were among other major luxury brands to launch games to promote their goods and new launches.

 

Meanwhile, fashion outlets such as Prada and Saint Laurent were a few of many that explored streaming and content creation on social media channels aimed at younger audiences such as SnapChat and TikTok. Luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter also began connecting with customers via WhatsApp if they were considered an EIP – or Extremely Important Person. Personal shoppers from the company communicate with customers who make the grade and showcase new products over the messaging app.

All of these examples show the growing importance of connecting with customers through the myriad of channels they use on a day-to-day basis.

Many luxury brands understand that digital growth and innovation is vital.

The luxury industry – the key to survival

As summed up in Part I of this two-part series, the luxury sector is at a pivotal point in its evolution.

Before COVID-19, many brands were in the process of making major changes to their business strategies in light of the growing tech-savvy consumer.

While heritage and tradition are still vitally important ingredients to the industry, companies appreciate the need to adapt to multi-channel methods of communication and embrace the Millennial ‘mottos’ of convenience and sustainability.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to accelerate these plans and look even more closely at their digital operations.

It is not enough for brands to survive and hope the world of lockdowns quickly fade away. To push on, brands must explore and invest in digital from inside and out, embrace technology and innovation and adjust their strategies to be prepared for all eventualities.

It is no longer enough to sell through online and physical stores, the successful luxury brands are looking into multiple digital channels – and new ways of making content that enhances consumer experiences in each.

From virtual appointments to apps and chat platforms, luxury brands must find ways to communicate and add value to the customer. Face-to-face personal experiences and assistance have gone digital and are likely to continue down this route long after the pandemic has been consigned to history.

Social media platforms were once just a means to communicate with customers, but have quickly become key avenues to sell on too. In the blink of an eye, even the ways of selling on these platforms is rapidly evolving.

Meanwhile, there are whole new worlds being created virtually where products that don’t exist in a physical sense are of value – with the platforms themselves becoming essential marketing tools to reach vast quantities of new consumers.

In all these examples, digital is the name of the game. Brands must not just pay lip-service to its importance, but embrace and explore every essence of its being to survive, thrive and prosper or be quickly left behind.

My life as a Scrum Master: lessons to be learned from experience in the field

In 2019, I had the opportunity to be a Scrum Master and Agile Coach, to rethink an online volunteer recruitment journey for clinical trials conducted by a cosmetics company. I would like to share with you the keys to the success of this project, as well as some lessons I learned from the experience. 

 

Project scoping: an essential step 

Prior to commencement of the project, the scoping stage enabled the seven participants, including the client, a neophyte, to better understand agility and, above all, scope the budget and time frame. 

The following were carried out before the eight planned sprints: 

  • A two-day agility training session for all those involved. It helped the Product Owner, members of the Information Systems Department and key users to understand the agile state of mind and the collaborative approach we would be adopting, including each person’s role. 
  • Several days of workshops addressing the vision, personas and story mapping were conducted to align everybody with the product aims and start building the Product Backlog. These workshops were attended by the Product Owner, the Proxy Product Owner, key users, the Information Systems Department representative, a UX designer and a developer. The presence of the latter two enabled them to gain a lot of information, build a UX Map and discuss technical issues and questions that were already visible. 

 

The crucial ‘Sprint 0’ or project preparation stage 

Agility requires proper preparation – known as ‘Sprint 0’ – before the sprints themselves. In addition to a list of actions to be carried out, this sprint brought to light a number of positive points that later enabled successful completion of the project. 

 

Carrying out several POCs

The project included several risky technical points: 

  • Health data hosting servers: because health data is sensitive, we had to work with servers providing specific features (including limited access, data encryption and separation of data); 
  • Connection of the application to our company’s Outlook calendar, based on the client’s need for its business teams to be able to modify entries in our consultants’ diaries; 
  • A full redesign of our client’s showcase website. 

In order to try to limit risks, and above all to avoid committing ourselves without knowing exactly what they involved, we carried out POCs for the first two points. These POCs enabled us to: 

  • Establish the basic source code for the project in advance; 
  • Check correct functioning with the Information Systems Department; 
  • Level up skills in the development team. 

Concerning the showcase website, it just so happened that SQLI had recently fully redesigned the client’s corporate website. We therefore looked at the possibility of reusing its technical basis, while adapting it to our needs: in doing so, we were able to save time and money for the project’s “application” dimension. 

 

Setting up environments 

Managing technical environments always consumes a lot of time and money, during both the setting-up and long-term maintenance phases. We therefore decided to first set up a fully operational integration and development environment, available from the first sprint, which gave us visibility for the deployment of subsequent sprints. 

 

Creation of an initial user story

The importance of the first US (user story), to be completed during Sprint 0, was demonstrated by this project. Based on a very simple US, we became aware of certain deployment issues related to our environments (including access rights to servers and product packaging). Without this first US, we would have been unable to deliver a single US in Sprint 1, so don’t hesitate to do one! 

 

Scrum-inspired team organisation

The team came up with an organisation based on the Scrum spirit. It was formed of the following (with time allocated to the project for each role, as this was crucial for the project’s success): 

  • A Product Owner (PO) on the client side, with 25% of their time allocated to the project; 
  • A Proxy Product Owner (PPO), with 100% of their time allocated to the project; 
  • A UX designer, with a set number of days allocated to the project; 
  • Three developers, including two full-time and one at 80%; 
  • A Scrum Master/Agile Coach working part-time. 

 

Contribution of the Information Systems Department to the project

We were lucky enough to work with an Information Systems Department that understood the importance of working without an intermediary in agile projects, which enabled us to work directly with the business teams. Often, our “business representative” (the PO) is somebody from IT who acts as an interface between the project team and business teams. In this case, the Information Systems Department provided us with support in technical areas when required, while the project PO was a person directly involved in business operations. 

 

The PO’s role: fully engaged and full-time! 

In my view, the PO’s role is often underestimated in Agile. And yet this is the person who owns the product and defines what it will look like. We were fortunate to have what I call a “real” PO: a person on the business side who will be using the application developed and knows the business teams, as well as where to find business-related information. Our PO carried out valuable work in the early stages to define user needs with users, scope the project in light of the vision (sometimes saying “no”) and have 90% of the user story information ready for when we looked at it in more detail. We saved a lot of time by avoiding unnecessary back-and-forths and unproductive discussions.  

 

Integrating the UX designer

You have most likely considered the following question: ‘how to integrate “specific” profiles in an agile project, such as architects, experts and the UX designer?”
The crucial factor for the UX designer’s role is to be involved as early on as possible and throughout the project. In our case, the UX designer was involved right from the project scoping phase (before Sprint 0), which enabled: 

  • Our client to see the project’s future more clearly thanks to wireframes. The client was also able to express its needs more easily through this process. 
  • It was then up to our UX designer to understand the client’s needs and requirements, in order to offer the best possible design and customer journey.   

During Sprint 0, the UX designer worked with us to refine the initial user stories, in order to be able to provide models as early as Sprint 1. The UX designer also defined the visual identity and main navigation elements. The UX designer’s involvement varies throughout the project: at the beginning, they must provide the full UX basis, which developers can dip into for the design of new functionalities, unless a new behaviour is expected. If so, their involvement will once again be required. That said, in my view, it is important that they are present until the end of the project, in order to ensure consistency right up to delivery of the final product and avoid any drift.  

 

Accepting change 

The team’s three developers were experienced in the technologies used. One point that had to be managed was acceptance of the changes, following user feedback or analysis of the user stories. The use of iteration for a screen and/or functionality, as well as creating a simple solution before the end solution, were not well understood. It was crucial to explain that the aim was for users to be able to look ahead to the future functionality. This part of my job required a lot of active listening and understanding of the fears underlying these reactions, in order to help them find the best solution. I tried to avoid giving them a solution, instead enabling them to find the solution that best suits their project. They rapidly saw the benefit of demonstrating functionalities and then having feedback. 

 

 

The project phase: the heart of the topic 

 

Scope / Cost / Time frame 

The first thing to highlight is that we managed to stay on budget and on time! As for the scope, it was adjusted as the project moved forward. Initially, the client chose only ‘Must’ needs, which we then refined during our story mapping. By the time the project was completed, based on the initial story mapping, we achieved 99% of the ‘Musts’, 79% of the ‘Shoulds‘, 65% of the ‘Coulds‘ and 50% of the ‘Woulds‘ (MoSCoW method) with the same budget. “How is this possible?” I hear you ask. 
 

Here are the success factors: 

  • A stable team working full-time throughout the project; 
  • The experience of the developers to always put forward the solution most suited to the need (and often the simplest); 
  • Reuse of the technical foundation of another website belonging to the client, which provided us with resources to meet business needs; 
  • A full-time PO, who was fully committed, had decision-making power and knew how to say “no”; 
  • The groundwork carried out by the PO with users; 
  • A clear vision shared by all, including sponsors; 
  • Use of Drupal, which facilitated management of access rights for the various profiles. 

If we look at the initially described scope and the implemented scope, we can see that certain functionalities were not provided, as it transpired they were unnecessary following user feedback. Conversely, as an example, a demonstration revealed to us that the employee working at the centre’s reception needed the appointment schedule every day to manage incoming volunteers, a need that had not been brought up. We added this feedback to our backlog and carried it out in the following sprint, as it was essential for the application to function correctly. 

 

The most important things first 

With an agile project, priorities should be focussed on the most important things first and not the most complicated or riskiest. We had an experience of this: an essential need expressed by users was for the application to be able to connect to their Outlook calendar, in order to read their appointments and enter new appointments made by volunteers to participate in clinical trials. We therefore focussed user stories on this area in the second sprint. Unfortunately, due to a problem related to secure access to Outlook, we were unable to implement these needs, which were pushed back to Sprint 6 (of eight). This had two consequences: 

  1. We had to move forward while imagining the solution for four sprints, which was a huge change of priorities for the PO. We also had to develop alternative solutions while we waited to have the Outlook solution, in order to be able to carry out tests and have operational software. These solutions were of course later undone. 
  2. Once the Outlook solution was implemented, we discovered lots of subtle points and problems regarding related functionalities, which required us to carry out a lot of tests and add user stories, in order to adjust needs to the new requirements, even though they had previously been approved by users.  

 

Pay attention to testing 

Another lesson that I have taken away from this project is the importance of tests. Often in agile, we neglect testing somewhat as we are developing functionalities on the fly. This is where automated tests can be very useful indeed. In our case, the acceptance criteria were taken into account in the user stories, but there was a lack of more global testing (or ‘regression testing’) in order to check that adding a need to the global functionality had not altered it.  

We also planned tests by the business team, but these were performed at least one sprint later, due to a lack of time for some of the people involved. The result of this is that we saw some anomalies and new needs too late and had to manage them as an emergency during the last sprints. All relevant feedback was, however, taken into account. In short, particular attention should be paid to testing in general when working with the agile (or even V-model) method, while bearing in mind the phrase ‘just in time and just enough’.  

If I had to do it again, I would recommend the following: 

  • Add automated testing for key functionalities; 
  • Systematically carry out regression testing; 
  • Free up time for business teams to involve them in “just-in-time” tests. 

 

Involving business teams  

End users were identified very early on and we insisted on their presence at the various ceremonies and tests. We added specific workshops with them in the middle of the project in order to: 

  • Remind them of the importance of their role; 
  • Ask them whether the way we communicate with them is satisfactory and how to improve; 
  • Ask them what new needs they have identified in light of previous demonstrations. 

A high level of involvement on the part of business team members is essential for the success of a product, because, without them, we could only make “a product” and not “the right product”. 

 

Producing specifications

I can almost hear you thinking “wait, you had specifications, so you weren’t exactly working agile!” Well, actually, we were, as we did not produce the specifications prior to the user stories, to tell the development team what to do, but rather after the discussion we had when we refined the user stories. These specifications are used only for maintenance and future product upgrades. 

There were two types of specifications produced during this project: 

  • Technical specifications that the dev team produced throughout the project, either in the user story itself or during the N+1 sprint for user stories completed in the previous sprint. 
  • Functional specifications, which I produced myself, during the last two sprints and the first two weeks of the guarantee period.  

For both types, the level of detail caused a few problems later on (late discovery of bugs and technical constraints) and I think that we should have done them more on the fly, with intermediate approvals.  

 

Handing over to the third-party application maintenance team 

We knew that maintenance would be required for the application from the project’s outset. Unfortunately, we dealt with this topic too late, which prevented a smooth transition. The post-project stage should be managed as early on as possible, as well as knowledge transfer. The ideal solution, in my view, is to have maintenance managed directly by the initial team, which continues to carry out upgrades.  

 

The contract

To end on a positive note, we managed this project with a fixed-sum contract, which was not at all restrictive, for several reasons: 

  • The contract was not followed to the letter in terms of scope-related commitments. As explained above, we followed user needs while bearing in mind our commitment.  
  • Simplified financial monitoring on the part of SQLI, as we had the right number of days per person and per sprint for the entire project. 
  • Indicators monitored were related to agility (number of user stories in the backlog/carried out, number of points in the backlog/carried out, velocity chart, burn down chart) and no commitments were made in this respect. 

 

 

To conclude, this project was a success (satisfied users, happy client, project delivered on time and on budget, and a Scrum team happy with its experience), despite a few pitfalls that helped us all grow during this project and taught us lessons for future projects. 

Six questions to ask when defining the scope your digital project

Building a sufficiently clear and detailed requirements specification that will put your digital project on track is a big challenge. The definition of your need will be the foundation of your project, the basis on which your teams or partner(s) will establish a viable, relevant and, above all, realistic recommendation in terms of the solution, resources, workload and time frame. Each requirements specification remains specific to the company’s governance rules and environment, as well as the size of the project. Information gathered often lacks clarity, quality, coherency and consistency, which can lead to failure.  

 

Bearing in mind that the success of a project is largely based on its justification, correct definition, understanding and adhesion, it is crucial to devote the time and resources needed to the pre-project phase known as ‘project scoping’. I would like to share six guiding questions, based on the ‘Five Ws and How’ method, to help you bring your ideas to maturity and accurately define the project scope 

 

Why?: the justification, challenges and aims of the digital project 

  • How did your project come about? What is its reason for being?  
  • What will this project bring you? What is its value proposition? What problem does it solve?  
  • What opportunity does it offer?  
  • What are your project’s challenges and aims (qualitative and quantitative)?  
  • Does it meet your company’s strategic objectives (business, performance and image)?  
  • What results does your senior management expect?  
  • Which criteria will be used to judge its success?  

You need to ask yourself all of these questions to define the expected goals as accurately as possible. You also need to make sure that these goals are specific and measurable. If you realise that the project does not meet a clear or objective need, you should probably not pursue it.  

A project’s reason for being will differ from one business sector to another. In banking and insurance, many projects come about for external reasons, such as regulatory changes that need to be complied with. In industry, companies may be interested in digitising processes, from manufacturing to order and stock management, in order to pursue a cost reduction and performance improvement policy. By setting a valid and achievable goal, you will also be able to lastingly motivate the project team. 

 

What?: the project description 

  • How do you define your project?  
  • What are its content and scope? What are its limits? 
  • Which solution is being considered to meet the objectives? What are the possible alternatives, if any? 
  • What are the expected deliverables? Can they be prioritised?  

This is admittedly a difficult exercise… We often begin with a global idea expressed by the requester and have to achieve a sufficient level of detail to correctly identify activities, and their related workload, which will stem from the need. It is essential to clearly determine the limits, whether related to the expected functionality or services, the use cases, the processes, the organisations and information systems impacted, or the technology used. Carrying out this step reduces the risk of unpleasant surprises and changes of direction, which are often costly, occurring during the project. To do so, you must fully consider the various aspects of the project, for example by conducting interviews and workshops (to share a single vision by gathering information and comparing ideas and viewpoints). This offers a dual benefit: identify key needs and be able to formulate requirements in a clear and structured way, while ensuring that everybody involved is on board 

 

Who?: the entities and stakeholders involved 

  • Who are the project stakeholders?  
  • Who are the sponsors, project team, executive managers, departments involved, clients, end users and external organisations, for example?

You must make sure that nobody is forgotten (such as users of a back-office, the customer relations centre, etc.) and identify their roles (their influence on the project’s success, their expectations and fears). It is also crucial to maintain a targeted communication plan (what type of information and how often) for the duration of the project, in order to ensure you have their active involvement and support. It is not rare to see projects fail due to a clear lack of interaction between the various stakeholders. How can you expect to have the support of your senior management if the project drifts off course and you have not ensured they are sufficiently informed or forewarned? How can you guarantee the quality of deliverables if you have not involved end users in building your product or have done so too late? 

 

Where?: your project’s internal and external environment 

  • What is your project’s environment? What kind of existing or future ecosystem will it operate in? 
  • Are there interactions with other projects?  
  • If similar projects have been carried out, what kind of feedback did you receive?  
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities?  
  • What sets you apart from the competition? 
  • What are your target audiences and personas?  
  • Which need must you fulfil? How to reach your target? 
  • What are the internal (HR, technical, legal, etc.) and external restrictions?  
  • Where will the project be carried out (internally, outsourced, nearshore, offshore, etc.)?  
  • Are you able to bring together the project team on a single site? 

It is essential to effectively analyse the existing situation and gain a clear view of reality, in order to give the project a chance of success. This exploratory phase will often help you highlight the added value of your project and support its reason for being. 

 

When?: major milestones in the timeline 

  • Have you identified the main phases?  
  • Have you set the project start date, the main tasks, and the intermediary and final deliveries?  
  • Are there imperatives in terms of the schedule (a set or legally required deadline)? 

As explained above, the more mature your project is, the better you will be able to estimate and plan the workload of the main activities, without forgetting to take into account the availability of resources required to carry them out. You need to set reasonable and possibly adjustable deadlines as the project advances, adapting to any unexpected circumstances along the way. If you have an end date that ties your hands in terms of deadlines, then you must either allocate the necessary budget or reduce the scope 

Once again, even though it is only a macro schedule at this stage, you must be as realistic as possible. Approval phases are often underestimated, failing to take into account deadlines for legal validation. Another example we have encountered: user training sessions scheduled during summer holidays, when most of the personnel are absent. 

 

How?: organisational, human and financial resources 

  • Have you identified a project methodology?  
  • Which authorities? Which governance?  

Be coherent in terms of your organisation and project maturity (V-model, iterative or agile). Perhaps because it is in vogue, or due to the promises of agility, the agile project approach is very popular, while it does not always suit the corporate culture or even the project.  

  • What are the allocated material (machines, tools, software, premises, etc.) and human resources?  
  • What skills, expertise and resources have been identified (internal and/or external)?  
  • What are the roles and availabilities of each individual?  

Prior to the launch of the project, you will need to have identified the resources that are essential for its deployment and effectively planned ahead for their management, in order to maintain sufficient productivity and motivation throughout the project. 

  • What budget are you prepared to devote to it?  
  • Do you have the financial means to meet your ambitions or requirements?  
  • What return on investment do you expect?  

In any event, your ability to stay on budget will largely depend on how accurate your initial estimations are and the budget margin you have provided, as well as on managing costs in a way that enables you to identify and adjust any discrepancies. Defining your expression as clearly as possible will limit financial risks.  

In short: do not be afraid to ask questions! Asking questions is key to achieving a clear definition of your project and securing it. In addition, doing so will enable you to identify and assess the main risks early on and take preventive actions. No project is risk-free, but you can reduce uncertainty! This analysis phase, which will play a major part in your project’s success or failure, is a complex step that can be highly strategic depending on its size, so you should not hesitate to seek assistance. An outside perspective is often very helpful when producing your requirements specification.  

BOPIS and BORIS: the retailer's friends

While retailers are always obsessed with the competition, in particular Amazon, we feel that physical stores can be used as a key differentiating factor, in particular thanks to our friends BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick up In Store) and BORIS (Buy Online, Return In Store). In this article, we will look at how they can significantly improve retailers’ daily lives. 

 

BOPIS and BORIS: an introduction 

One case illustrates the arrival of BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick up In Store) and BORIS (Buy Online, Return In Store) particularly well. It is Walmart, which sees assistance of online customers as strategic, in particular through its delivery service direct to the doorstep. Customers benefit from Walmart’s Grocery Pickup service, which combines the convenience of online shopping and the ease of not having to leave the car, all without additional fees. 

If you were wondering, the advantage of BOPIS over click-and-collect is that it makes the order available at one of the brand’s stores, while speeding up the returns process. In the case of clothing, for example, customers benefit from the use of fitting rooms and a sales advisor, who is on hand to handle returns and update stocks. This makes it possible to reduce shipping costs and put returned items back into stock almost in real time, making them available for other customers to buy. 

To achieve this, retailers need to overcome organisational and operational challenges, particularly in terms of personnel, digitization and process optimization. 

However, BORIS and BOPIS open up major opportunities in terms of both sales and store footfall. Any retailer that offers fast-selling products, i.e. common consumer goods, will see an increase in its global revenue. This remains true for retailers in general. 

 

How to meet these challenges?

Current processes are not optimized. The management of orders as part of a ‘pick up in store’ and ‘return in store’ system involves additional workload and requires available employees to welcome customers who have purchased online. Furthermore, these employees must also receive and manage product returns, including operations such as adding to/removing from stock and checking returned products. The workload related to meeting consumers’ new expectations (speed, buying convenience and the ability to make an immediate return are at the top of the list) is, therefore, growing, and presents an organisational obstacle to the adoption of BOPIS and BORIS by retailers.  

In the view of retailers, the best way to overcome these challenges is to make the processes more efficient by optimizing and digitizing them1. In particular, this means having improved real-time visibility of stocks, at all points of sale, and a central stock that enables consolidation of all incoming and outgoing flows. These points are essential in order to set up a BOPIS and BORIS system. 

If retailers want to optimize the management of returns, or even avoid them altogether, they can adopt ROPIS: Reservation Online, Pick up In Store. The main difference here is that instead of customers paying for products before picking them up in the store, they can first reserve them online and then try them in person before deciding whether or not to buy. The product is kept on hold until the customer comes to the store. Not only does this method eliminate order processes, it also avoids unnecessary returns. 

 

What will BOPIS’ and BORIS’ roles be in tomorrow’s world? 

The Covid-19 crisis and its effects on consumption will most likely be felt for a while to come. It looks as though day-to-day consumer behaviour will change permanently and, in many cases, significantly. Nobody can predict how exactly, but it seems likely that consumers will be less inclined to spend as much time in stores, particularly those that do not offer added value or a “wow effect”.  

This means that BOPIS and BORIS will soon be one of those services that retailers need to offer without delay. Customers will only need to go to stores to pick up orders made online or return a product. 

It seems that BOPIS and BORIS, along with ROPIS, are extremely useful allies that no retailer can do without. 

Food: what is happening in the areas of foodtech and agritech in Asia?

Growth of the world population, and the middle classes in Asia’s emerging countries in particular, has led to an increase in demand for food. Digital is now playing a role in food production, helping to improve crop performance, optimize resource use, connect farmers with the market and track food. We take a closer look at some of the players that are transforming one of the most ancient human activities.  

 

Changing food needs 

China and India are together set to bring an additional one billion people into the middle class by 2030, according to CaixaBank Research. China’s emerging middle class has begun to reproduce western consumption habits, making it the biggest consumer and importer of meat at the present time1Faced with this growing demand, the agricultural sector must innovate to produce more, while avoiding affecting consumer health and exhausting resources. A series of scandals in China have also created opportunities to make the food sector more transparent.  

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Elsewhere, the world population is migrating to urban areas (according to the United Nations, three quarters of the world population will live in cities by 20502). This is particularly true in Asia and the trend is making the supply chain to cities increasingly complex 

An issue highlighted by the closure of borders during the Covid-19 crisis, self-sufficiency has become a strategic challenge. Singapore, for example, currently imports 90% of its food from neighbouring countries. The Singapore Food Agency has announced its ambition to produce 30% of its food locally by 2030. The country is investing more and more in urban agriculture and innovations that make it possible to produce meat in labs, for example.  

 

Urban farms: green in the city 

In Singapore, Edible Garden City is shaking up the agri-food sector. This company has built a community linked to urban farms and created 200 food gardens over the past seven years, sometimes in iconic locations, such as the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It has helped farm-to-table restaurants flourish in the country. Edible Garden City also has its own farm, which integrates modern technologies, including a system that turns food waste into fertiliser with the help of insects.  

Other urban farms in Singapore, such as Sky Greens and Sustenir Agriculture, have developed vertical production technologies in a controlled environment using LED technology. Sustenir Agriculture uses artificial intelligence to monitor plant growth and the agricultural system as a whole, from the raw materials to ERP. The farm currently produces around 11 tons of kale cabbage a year on less than 50 square metres, and double the amount of vegetables such as lettuce3. Thanks to the closed and controlled environment, food grows faster, uses less water and produces twelve times less carbon emissions than imported products. By analysing data, the farm is able to identify exactly how to improve yields, from nutrients in the water to the energy used to produce light.   

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Sustenir Agriculture’s LED lighting system. Source: www.straitstimes.com 

 

Connecting farmers with demand: technology in the field 

Technology is also helping farmers in rural areas improve their productivity and connect with customers. In India, for example, several startups have grown rapidly in recent years with a Farm to Fork delivery model. They are helping the supply chain go digital and increase efficiency.  

For example, Ninjacart, founded in Bangalore in 2015, has designed an application that enables restaurant and shop owners to order fresh produce directly from farmers, thereby cutting out the middleman. Transactions are carried out on the platform, while the logistics (delivery and warehousing) are then managed by Ninjacart, which takes a commission on each transaction. The service is guaranteed paperless from A to Z. Ninjacart is currently able to make deliveries from the farm to the delivery location in less than 12 hours, with an efficiency rate of 99.88%. Thanks to its fifty or so warehouses, an army of “ninja” delivery people and demand prediction algorithms, more than 1000 tons of fruit and vegetables are delivered to 60,000 retailers in seven major Indian cities on a daily basis. 

Due to very strict lockdown measures, most urban markets had to close. Retailers had to cease their operations and farmers, who make up most of Indian’s working population, found themselves with harvests they were unable to sell. Ninjacart then launched the ‘Harvest The Farm’ campaign to directly link farmers and consumers, enabling producers to cover their costs and sell their harvests. Consumers also benefit with fruit and vegetables at low prices, while Ninjacart covers the cost of the supply chain. The startup worked with local delivery applications, such as Deliveroo, to make deliveries to the end customers.  

 

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The final farm-to-consumer delivery campaign deployed by Ninjacart during the lockdown in India  

Following this success, in 2020, the startup has raised 10 million dollars in Series C financing from Flipkart, India’s e-commerce giant, and 50 million dollars from Walmart. 

 

Supply chain transparency: a clear choice 

Following a number of food scandals, China has become a pioneer in the area of supply chain traceability. In 2015, e-commerce giant Alibaba launched its HEMA (Freshippo) grocery stores, which integrate many new technologies, including a major innovation at the time: each product has a QR code that customers can scan to get information about the product, the supplier, the product’s entire journey, its storage conditions, and comments from other customers, as well as recommendations and recipes. With this technology, meat consumers can, for example, find out exactly when the animal arrived at the farm, when it was slaughtered, where it was transported from, and so on. You can even see the number plate of the lorry that transported it and food safety certificates.  

Read our article on food safety and blockchain 

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The application for Alibaba’s Hema grocery stores makes it possible to track the origin of products

 

Several startups in China are also focussing on product traceability by using blockchain technologyVeChain, a blockchain specialist aiming to improve supply chain management, is collaborating with Walmart China4. Sam’s Club, a chain of stores owned by Walmart that is dedicated to wholesalers and small businesses, is working on a project to use VeChain’s blockchain to track the journey of 20 product categories for its brand Member’s Mark. The packaging will include a QR code enabling customers to access product origin information. The Singapore-based VeChain also has other projects in China, including for tea traceability.  

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Source: www.prnewswire.com 

Asia is at the forefront of foodtech and agritech, transforming a sector that had changed little for thousands of years. The health crisis has further sped up an emerging trend towards more local and efficient production, mainly in cities, which combines increased transparency and a closer link between farmers and the market.  

Connected health in Asia: Four thriving companies to follow

The adoption of digital in the health sector has seen exponential growth in Asia following the Covid-19 pandemic. Numerous innovations in this area had begun to emerge in recent years, in order to make healthcare more accessible in countries where Internet coverage is spreading ever further and rural areas have shortages of doctors. Digital can also be used to address other issues, such as the cost of services and taboos that remain widespread. From remote consultations combined with AI to testing robots and therapeutic applications, we look at some of the many connected health solutions that can be found across Asia. 

 

Four connected health solutions that caught our attention 

In China, Ping An Good Doctor is opening access to remote consultations 

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Remote consultation booth and medicine vending machine by Ping An Good Doctor in China – Source: AndroidPit 

 

In response to encouragement from Chinese policies to digitise healthcare services, in 2019, the banking and insurance group Ping An set up a remote consultation service that uses dedicated booths. Named Ping An Good Doctor, the service attracted 38 million euros of investment through the development of 29 partnerships with national industry giants (in the medical, banking, insurance, telephony, etc. sectors), in order to establish its connected health ecosystem1. 

 Patients enter what looks like a photo booth and describe their symptoms to a “virtual doctor”. Based on AI, the doctor establishes a diagnosis by analysing all of the data collected:  the patient’s voice, symptom descriptions and medical history. Remotely, a doctor approves the final diagnosis and prescribes medicines. Next to the booth, the patient can pay for and receive their medicine using the vending machine or place an order on the Good Doctor app. 

 In 2019, it already had more registered users than any other Chinese remote consultation platform. Between January and February 2020, at the beginning of the epidemic, it recorded ten times more registrations and nine times more consultations2. Consultations were then free for patients with a risk of infection by the virus. 

 

In Bangladesh, the app Maya Apa offers answers to health-related questions for free 

 

Launched in 2015, the app enables the population of Bangladesh to access a network of medical experts, covering a wide range of topics, of which 80% are related to health. The startup says that it answers 5000 questions per day and that 2 million users interacted with the app in December 2019 alone3 

Available in English, Bengali and local dialects, the service is free, with premium options, making it possible to receive an answer in just ten minutes. The artificial intelligence behind Maya Expert answers around 30% of questions asked by patients, with an accuracy rate of 90%, which enables the startup to greatly reduce its costs. The rest of the questions are handled by experts, who are approved following checks by the platform.  

For the remaining 70%, experts in the relevant topic answer in less than three hours. The app also offers an option including an instant messaging function, the ability to post attachments and voice notes to communicate. Anonymity is ensured, enabling individuals to keep their health issues secure and avoid stigmatisation in a society where many health-related topics remain taboo. 

 

In India, Wysa AI offers a digital therapy service
 

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Screenshot of the chatbot in the Wysa app – Source: PCMag 

 

The WHO estimates that an average of one in four individuals is affected by mental health issues at a given time in their lives4This is why, in 2017, the Indian startup Wysa AI decided to enter the connected health market by developing a virtual therapist. The application digitally promotes mental and emotional well-being, featuring the Wysa Well-being Coach, based on a penguin chatbot that is available 24/7. 

Users can access a library of audio content on personal development topics and the human therapist service (via messaging), all anonymously.  

In order to strengthen its algorithm and keep services up to dateWysa AI works in partnership with psychologists and therapists. 

Available in several languages, the service is not limited to India, as the app has been downloaded by 1.7 million people in 30 different countries, with a total of 100 million conversations recorded so far (40% of users are located in the United States, United Kingdom and India)5. While it was initially adopted by younger users (24-30 years old), Wysa has also managed to earn the trust of older users (35+ years old). 

 

In India, the Philippines and Myanmar, Forus Health is reducing the prices of ophthalmological and diabetes testing equipment 

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Source: Instagram @forus_health_imaging 

 

 

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication that affects half of people with type-2 diabetes.  

According to the WHO, 19% of the 422 million diabetic people around the world are located in India, a country that is facing a shortage of ophthalmological experts, with only 20,000 experts for a population of 1.3 billion6. 

Since 2018, the startup Forus Health, which specialises in the development of ophthalmological devices, has been developing 3Nethra, a device that is able to screen the illness at a very young age, in order to avoid future complications and reduce the mortality rate. By integrating AI and Microsoft Azure’s Cloud capacities, 3Nethra can screen for symptoms in patients in real-time. The AI scans the image instantly and eliminates the usual lengthy process of printing images for analysis to be carried out. Furthermore, its use requires no particular expertise and its price is affordable, making it accessible. 

The startup has already installed 2200 devices in 26 countries and affected 2.5 million lives7 

 

 

A selection of innovations to help fight the Covid-19 epidemic: 

The digital and technological agility of Asian countries, the involvement of tech giants and the support of governments have enabled new connected health innovations to emerge and help in the fight against Covid-19. The three following innovations caught our attention. 

 

The Alibaba algorithm that detects the coronavirus in 20 seconds 

Tech giant Alibaba has developed an algorithm to analyse CT scans. It can identify the virus in 20 just seconds, compared with 15 minutes for a doctor, with an accuracy rate of 96%. The algorithm was trained using data and scans of more than 5000 confirmed coronavirus cases and uses deep learning to study infection characteristics. The system is used at more than 26 hospitals and 100 healthcare establishments in China and contributed to diagnosing more than 30,000 cases in March8 

 

A robot that monitors the health condition of isolated patients in Singapore 

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The robot BeamPro at Alexandra hospital – Source: Alexandra Hospital 

 

The robot BeamPro was deployed in Alexandra hospital in Singapore in order to remotely monitor the health condition of isolated patients. A prototype of the robot was made three months before the beginning of the epidemic and it therefore saw its development significantly accelerated.  

It is fitted with a camera and screen, enabling nurses and doctors, who are visible by patients via video-conferencing, to observe them and ask questions. The robot’s movements are remotely controlled by a computer. 

A second version is already being developed and will enable patients to communicate with the robot in four different languages.  

In South Korea, AI and big data have enabled the development of test kits 

Seegene, a Korean company specialised in biotechnological molecules, began research to develop testing kits as early as January 2020. Thanks to AI and big data, in less than three weeks, the company was able to contribute to the development of the first prototypes. Without this technology, the company estimates that it would have taken two to three months to develop the same kit. 

In addition to the technology, the government’s swiftness in introducing relevant regulations, and the medical approval of the kits, in particular through private-public partnerships, also helped make large-scale production of the kits possible. The country was therefore able to launch screening operations in its population very early on.  

 

 

Conclusion 

Technology, including digital and artificial intelligence in particular, is an essential asset to facilitate access to healthcare and speed up the development of solutions in the sector. Asia is once again at the forefront, due to the specific characteristics of its emerging countries (such as shortages of doctors in rural areas, accessibility needs and taboos), and, in mature countries, such as Singapore, China and South Korea, thanks to governmental support, which encourages the use of technology.    

 

AI and Personalisation: explanations, limits and drives

Guided by the reasoning “offer the right product to the right customer at the right time!”, retail professionals have moved to personalise marketing strategies. Always transform better, constantly increase the average basket and consistently maintain customer loyalty while responding to relationship and emotional challenges and offering each customer a bespoke experience: given this never-ending quest for personalisation, lets examine how AI has boosted the rise and conditions of one-to-one marketing. 

 

Personalisation or Hyper-personalisation: what do we mean?

Marketing efforts focused solely on the product are over; the client-first (or customer-centric) wave has overrun everything in its path, repositioning business and branding issues with the customer in mind. Buyers are flattered to find themselves the subject of so much attention, and 80% of them say they are more likely to buy from a brand that offers them a personalised experience.1  

Lets take a simple approach: if we look at it from a minimalist angle, personalisation consists in integrating personal and transactional information (name, purchase history, etc.) into communications. This data only represents 1.6% of the data that purchasers generate. Nearly all the “Digital Body Language”2 resides in behaviour data through the millions of signals that customers send to us on an online sales website. Hyper-personalisation is conceived as the exploitation of often deeply immersed datain particular to use it in real time to create extremely contextual and relevant communication for the website visitor.  

A quick example based on email targeting:  

  • With Personalisation, the user will receive a flash sales email with their first name in the subject line for shoes belonging to the same category (sports) in which they bought a pair about six months ago.  
  • With Hyper-Personalisation, the level of contextualisation is far more advanced: this user, after browsing the site and not purchasing anything but leaving traces of their visit, will receive a message built around the trainers they saw, their search and purchase history for this range of products, and at a time of day that matches the time they usually make a purchase. 

 

Capturing and processing data within the imposed framework

Generally, we separate hot data from cold data. Cold data comes from a CRM or DMP, a pre-existing set of data such as age, gender, purchase profile, etc. Hot data is captured as the visitor browses the website, such as behavioural data on the content viewed or searched, the time spent in various categories, technical data (such as device and browser), and contextual data (time, geolocation, etc.). Exploiting this data is naturally at the heart of how personalisation works.  

This processing must be executed precisely and immediately; the customer must be influenced and persuaded in real time! It reaches a point that we come up against certain paradoxes. Data collection combined with algorithmic processing allows for content to be adjusted in real time, which could result in limiting discovery and “free”, or at least non-imposed, browsing. Itsimilar to the criticism about tribalism that was made of Facebook a few years ago. 

Consumers, reassured by the implementation of GDPR principles, now require more transparency and want to know what data brands use to optimise their personalised systems. According to a recent study, 83% of respondents are ready to share their data for personalisation purposes3, but only insofar as brands are transparent about how they use it, and users maintain control over the information sent. As you have seen, the customer experience must be built around consent, transparency and intelligence in the use of data.    

 

Driving AI to serve marketing

Given the boom in shared data and the proliferation of targeting criteria to be triggered in real time, Artificial Intelligence has naturally found its place in this context of the automation and optimisation of the customer experience.  

Lets remember that Machine Learning and AI already have extensive scopes of application. For our interests here, the algorithms used will be able to offer buyers the most relevant product suggestions and recommendations (similar to pioneer Amazon) and more. How? Based on the more numerous customer segments, the algorithm will make predictions founded on its calculations and the correlations observed between those who bought the same offer or those who found the same message appealing. All while processing an ever-greater volume of data and with unparalleled reliability. 

On the market, a wide-ranging ecosystem of solutions has grown around AI combined with hyper-personalisation. For example, we can cite KameleoonSparkowNostoNuukik, Untie Nots and Target2Sell, each of which is working to improve its predictive algorithm to optimise merchandising, content management, search, promotions/loyalty systems, and omni-channel targeting (email, social media).  

Ia personnalisation

See the SAP Commerce Cloud solution 

 

For now, lets take a closer look at the Context-Driven Services solution, an add-on to the SAP Commerce Cloud offering, which includes:  

  1. A principle of consent for any use of customer insights (Consent Management within the Store Front), 
  2. A big data cluster (Context Services) to store and enrich contextual and behavioural customer data sent from a JavaScript profile tag,  
  3. The definition of segments in the Segment Builder by managing attributes and conditions in relation with the orders, the basket content, and the customer,  
  4. The ability to dynamically assign customers to the segments dynamically so as to present them with specific content (content, promotions, search) in real time, whether the user is logged in or not,  
  5. As the visitor browses, the service enriches the profile, constantly making new calculations in the customer/segment assignments to drive a personalised experience on the site’s front office, notably via the SmartEdit CMS. 

As we have seen, personalisation brings ever more value to customers given its advanced attention to contextualisation, whose perceived benefits spill over into the relationship between the customer and the brand…as long as the brand has built a climate of trust in how data is processed and if the consent to share can be withdrawn at any time.  

CES 2021: this year, it's all about the "new normal"

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This 54th CES event did not escape the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and, like everybody, it had to adapt. Supported by Microsoft, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) set up a virtual portal bringing together keynotes, conferences and a space for discussions and meetings, as well as mini-websites of the some 1900 exhibitors taking part in this year’s very different and somewhat nostalgia-tinged event.

The opening keynote by Gary Shapiro (President of the CTA) rapidly immersed us in the reality of recent months, which have been so difficult for the whole planet, including some figures that showed just how much the crisis has driven us to act, innovate and unite in the face of the challenges of this new normal. Two sectors in particular grabbed my attention: healthcare and wellness; automotive.

 

A quick overview of CES 2021

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The pandemic has allowed us to move forward much more quickly with the adoption of new uses and technologies, in the areas of healthcare and wellness, education, enterprise digital transformation and commerce, where our consumption habits have been totally shaken up.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, stated that: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, added that: “We experienced 5 years acceleration in pick-up delivery in 5 weeks.”

The health crisis also brought about increased awareness, through the new challenge presented by this more sustainable, more social, smarter and higher performing new normal. Many players on the international stage have adopted these values, such as Bosch, which used CES as a platform to announce that it had achieved carbon neutrality for all of its 400 sites throughout the world at the end of 2020 (independent audit in progress). They owe this success to a strategy based on four main areas: increasing energy efficiency, developing the production of renewable energy, buying more green electricity and compensating for unavoidable CO2 emissions.

 

Live sustainable #LikeABosch video

Samsung launched a new programme named ‘Galaxy Upcycling at Home’ aimed at enabling users to repurpose their old smartphones as handy household devices, for example as a baby phone by using the sound sensors to monitor the room, or as a long-distance remote control to turn on lights and open windows.

 

 

Healthcare and wellness in the spotlight

Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was a major year for healthcare innovations. As Forbes revealed: “Telehealth usage has soared from 11% of Americans using it in 2019 to 76% of Americans in 2020, a trend that has been reflected in the record level of investment in e-health startups, representing a total of 21.5 billion dollars (nearly 18 billion euros), or a 50% increase on 2019, according to the latest report by StartUp Health1.

Unsurprisingly, we have seen many examples of telemedecine at home with solutions that capture and monitor physiological parameters using the latest computer vision and artificial intelligence technologies, in order to provide better advice and improve monitoring of health and wellness. Here are a few that stood out:

  • ai: an app that transforms any smartphone or tablet into a tool to monitor vital signs. By looking at the device’s camera, the app can measure heart rate, heart rate variability, oxygen saturation, respiration, stress and, soon, blood pressure, in less than one minute and with medical-grade accuracy.
  • HealthyU™, a smart remote surveillance system that is able to provide: 7-track ECG, heart sounds, heart rate, pulse oximetry, temperature, breathing rate, and blood pressure trend.
  • Welldoc, an innovative platform (mobile app + user portal) to advise users and help them remain in good health. It addresses diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart failure.

It was also no surprise to see solutions designed to fight and protect against the Covid virus using air purification, such as the Airthings Wave, a device connected to a mobile app that monitors air quality in homes and offices and sends alerts. There is also the AirPop smart face mask, which is able to monitor your breathing and the state of the filter via a mobile device.

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Finally, in terms of wellness, connected mirrors are still very popular this year, such as the mirrors produced by CareOs (a French company), which presented us its latest model ‘Themis’, a well-being companion in the form of a tablet that can recognise your face, understand voice commands, analyse your skin and provide various other services. In the same category, a solution nominated for the 2021 Awards from South Korea (which is always far ahead in this area) – the zmirror by ICON.AI – can perform skin analysis, is compatible with Alexa, and features a sound system designed by Harman Kardon.

 

The automotive sector: always moving forward

The automotive and new urban mobility sectors always have a strong presence at CES and this year was no different, with some of the most interesting conferences being on the topic of electric and autonomous vehicles.

Let’s begin with Sony, which returned with its all-electric car prototype: the Vision-S. This idea was inspired by the importance of user experience in new urban mobility and was bolstered by the audience’s enthusiasm at CES 2020, which convinced Sony to go as far as testing it in real conditions in Austria, in December 2020. They have worked with various partners (including Magna Steyr, AImotive, Bosch and Continental) to jointly build this first prototype, which has no less than 40 sensors, providing 360-degree vision and Level 2+ driver assistance. Sony is ultimately aiming for Level 4, which says a lot about the ambition of this project, as it remains just that (a project) for the time being. Watch this space…

 

Sony Vision-S video

The CEO of Mobileye (owned by Intel), Professor Amnon Shashua, attended the event to present an approach that addresses the issue of scale, both in technological and commercial terms. It is essential to make the technology affordable, in line with the market for future autonomous vehicles, in order to make them accessible around the world. Mobileye’s solution comes in the form of a cost-efficient camera as the main sensor, combined with a new type of LiDAR (using photonics) offering superior reflexes than those that can be expected from a human driver. Thanks to True Redundancy™, Mobileye can deliver the performance level required to achieve Level 4 autonomy more rapidly and at lower cost than combined systems.

 

GM Exhibit Zero video

To end on a high note, I’d like to talk to you about General Motors and its vision for a future free of crashes, carbon emissions and congestion. The key to achieving this lies in the electrification of vehicles and connectivity of the urban ecosystem.

Along with this transition to electricity is the announcement of the all-new Ultium platform, which will enable 30 new electric vehicle models to be brought to market. This represents an investment of more than 27 billion dollars between now and 2025. GM’s confidence in this transition is based on its future lithium-ion battery Ultium, which lasts longer (at least 640 km), weighs less (25% reduction) and costs less (40% reduction), thanks to a 70% reduction in cobalt, replaced by aluminium.

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The other announcement made by GM is the creation of BrightDrop, a new business unit based on an electric vehicle, software and delivery service ecosystem. The aim is to help companies optimise their logistics and delivery services with its various products. The first model, the EP1 electric pallet, has been designed to easily transport packages over very short distances (from a warehouse to a shop, or a delivery vehicle to a customer’s doorstep). The EP1 can be placed in the EV600 electric delivery truck, which has been tested by FedEx teams as part of a pilot project.

 

Unusual, unexpected and unpredictable, 2020 will undoubtedly have played a huge role in accelerating new practices, particularly in the area of digital transformation. CES 2021 was the perfect illustration of this, with many innovations that have shaken up habits in the areas of consumption, healthcare and wellness. This year’s event may also have been a turning point (as Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, rightly said) in a growing awareness of the importance of respecting the planet and people.

We look forward to next year and some return to normality with an event in Las Vegas!