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Broken digital: the frustrating, the costly and the funny

November 13, 2018

old_broken_chainAlready before lunchtime today, I’d experienced three examples of broken digital processes in banking, insurance and retail – one frustrating, one costly and one funny – and in that order too! Digital transformation is great, but it only takes one broken link in the process and it all comes undone.

First up, I was trying to complete a credit card transaction over the phone, and my payment was declined. I followed up with a call to the bank, who let me know that a block had been placed on my card owing to suspicious activity (a very small amount paid to a US-based charity – called credit card testing).

Well done to the bank for having automated systems in place to pick up on the fraud and stop it before it caused any serious damage! However, when I asked why I hadn’t been notified about the blockage, the bank’s security guy told me that a message had been sent to my mobile number – which turned out to be a number I had changed a few years ago.

I was sure I had updated my number with the bank at the time. My online banking contact details showed that I had, so I called the bank to find out why this old number was still floating around in their systems. After some time searching for it, they couldn’t find any trace of it and could only assure me that they have ‘put a note on my file’ so that it wouldn’t happen again. There is obviously some sort of broken link in the chain where the change I made to my online record isn’t flowing through the entire system. The sum effect? Frustration and an hour of wasted time, first in trying to process a transaction that wouldn’t go through, then on the phone twice to the bank to sort out the issue.

Second and somewhat connected, as it was in relation to the credit card payment I was trying to make, I found out that I would have been paying too much to renew my car insurance. Why? Because a premium costs more when you have a car with finance attached to it. However, I had finished paying off the car early in 2018 and, even though I was insuring the car through the same finance company, the price of the policy renewal wasn’t automatically updated to reflect that change in status. I only discovered this because I was on the phone with the company trying to make the unsuccessful credit card payment to renew the policy.

While this could be an inadvertent error from the finance company in its automated processes, the cynic in me thinks otherwise. The end result? A difference of $200 on my premium. If you calculate that across all the companies and people with car insurance where the finance has ended during the previous 12 months, that’s a lot of money.

The final broken digital process came in a “Because you purchased … we also recommend these” email I received from an online retailer. I purchased some Tiles – finder devices – the day before, but I think the retailer’s keyword-matching AI algorithms might need a little bit of fine tuning.

The recommended product? A steam mop.

(Pictured top: “Old Broken Chain” by Jaysin Trevino via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.)

 

 

A win for IP rights and innovation

November 8, 2018

HivesWith our weather warming up, the flowers  blooming and Explore’s own Flow Hives (pictured this morning) ramping up honey production, there was great news today with the hive’s inventors winning their fight against a ‘copycat’ manufacturer.

The global reach that businesses now have with the Internet is both a blessing and a curse – especially for innovators like Flow Hive. It would have been next to impossible for them to have raised so much money so quickly, together with global market awareness they generated for their product, without the help of the crowdfunding platform they used.

At the same time, it’s been just as easy for scammers and copycats to take a short cut and make a quick buck on the back of Flow Hive’s hard work and experimentation over ten years – and this is despite the attempts Flow Hive has made to legally protect its intellectual property rights globally.

Part of the problem is that the so-called ‘tech disruptors’ like Google, Amazon, Facebook and eBay are facilitating these IP contraventions, while claiming to bear no responsibility for the actions of their users. The issue with this is that they are deriving direct benefit from the contravention – which seems to have little bearing on their complicity. I’m not sure why they aren’t forced by the regulators to take a more active role in policing and enforcing the IP rights of the legitimate holders. And this isn’t something new. It’s been at least 20 years since I first complained to Google about a competitor using one of our trademarks as a paid keyword search term.

Surely, technology is now at the stage where we can have APIs into the various IP administrative systems globally, so that companies like Google and Amazon can connect to the data sources and automate a large part of this IP enforcement process?

Cedar Anderson from Flow Hive says they have had to spend a huge amount of money and time trying just to shut down copycats. “In some cases it makes it hard for people like us with a legitimate product. For example. Amazon and eBay even advertise counterfeit products on keywords, which really shouldn’t be allowed to happen. It’s bad enough that they are allowed to list counterfeits, let alone advertise them.” – Flow Hive pest free after parasite brand folds

Let’s keep up the good fight!

More local recognition and support needed?

October 26, 2018

In terms of recognising Australian technical innovation, we tend to focus our attention on the eastern seaboard, so it’s great to have the opportunity to highlight a significant piece of industry achievement from South Australia.

You probably hadn’t heard the news, but a collaboration software product from SA was presented with an Engineering Emmy this week in Hollywood: cineSync, developed by Adelaide firm Cospective.

You can read more about cineSync  and the Emmy win on fxguide.

eng-2018-cospective-p-900x600

Rory McGregor, CEO of Cospective, from left, Neil Wilson, Robert Bartlett, and Roland Empson accept the Engineering Emmy Award for Cospective at the 2018 Engineering Emmy Awards (Phil McCarten/Invision/AP Images) – https://www.emmys.com/photo/484806?galleryid=484771

 

One of the creators of the software was recently recognised locally for his achievements – with Tony Clark from Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) presented with the 2018 SA Pearcey Entrepreneur Award last month in Adelaide. Tony is pictured below, receiving his award from Professor Mike Miller.

Professor Mike Miller and Tony ClarkAccepting his award, Tony was pretty outspoken about the lack of technology industry and government support and recognition for homegrown innovation in his speech:

“At a really fundamental level we need to support our entrepreneurs and insist that our government helps to build local businesses that are here because they love and are committed to this place, not because they are coming for subsidies.”

Tony‘s career achievements to date have been remarkable.

First up, RSP established its own high-speed broadband network in 2004 called “Cinenet” that’s since become part of Superloop (https://www.superloop.com/cinenet/) which helped RSP to win the contract for the special effects on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (see an old ABC news story on this here: http://www.abc.net.au/technology/articles/2011/09/13/3316672.htm).

Then, it was during the production of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that RSP first developed the cineSync software  so that people could easily collaborate on the film across different locations (https://cospective.com/cinesync/). cineSync has since become the default industry tool around the world and won the creators a technical Oscar back in 2011 (some news on that at the time here: https://www.smh.com.au/technology/aussie-geeks-win-big-at-oscars-20110214-1at5e.html). It has also led to a web-based version of the software called Frankie, all achieved out of the company’s Adelaide base.

The list of movies that RSP has worked on are incredible – it’s worth checking out their demo reel on their home page – https://rsp.com.au/home/. And cineSync is now pretty much in use by every major production studio, to the point that it “has become almost a new verb, replacing ‘review session’ in much the same way ‘Googling’ something has replaced ‘searching’.” (https://www.provideocoalition.com/frankie-makes-content-sharing-and-client-review-simple-and-easy/)

Maybe we need a little more local recognition and support for technical achievements like this?

Going with the Flow

September 25, 2018

beesWhen I first found out about this incredible piece of innovation about three and a half years ago, I knew immediately that it was perfect for me. I was one of the first to sign up for a Flow Hive when the crowdfunding campaign went live in February 2015, and we added a second hive the following year.

It’s been a steep learning curve, especially when you have to deal with your first swarm! And, like this recent CNET article attests, you can’t be hands off with your Flow Hive.

However, the experience has been amazing. We are producing the beautiful, complex and delicious honey, we’ve got two healthy bee colonies, we’ve caught and supplied new swarms for other beekeepers in the area, and the fruit trees and vegetables in our garden have never been as productive.

In response to the controversies about commercial egg production, we’ve had our own chickens for years, so we know exactly where our eggs are coming from and how our chooks are being treated. Chickens are also a fantastic way to reduce food waste and produce fertiliser for the garden.

explore_honeyNow, we are seeing similar problems with bees and the honey industry. There’s a dangerous decline in the bee population worldwide, which is having a devastating effect on the environment and especially food security. And, partly as a consequence, we’ve just had a “fake” honey scandal erupt involving adulterated samples from some of the big commercial producers.

I was thrilled to be asked by the team at Flow recently to become a Flow Ambassador. My role is to be a local point of contact for people in my region (the Southern Highlands of NSW) who are interested in finding out more about beekeeping and Flow Hive products. It also means that people have access to my referral program, which gives you a discount on Flow products: https://mbsy.co/honeyflow/maungle.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone with a backyard had their own chooks producing eggs and their own bees producing honey?

Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more about keeping bees, or if you’d like to come and have a look at our hives.

 

Which country will win the World Cup?

June 14, 2018

socceroosOn that question, the understatement of the year has to go to CNBC: “Predicting the winner of a soccer World Cup isn’t an exact science” (UBS uses stock-picking tech to predict the winner of the 2018 soccer World Cup).

After reading about Goldman Sachs in the AFR using artificial intelligence to predict the World Cup winner, I wondered how many other people were using data analytics and modelling to pick the winner this year – and also how much store we should put on big data as a way to accurately forecast future outcomes.

It turns out there are a lot of pundits out there applying different technology approaches to the challenge, and willing to back themselves publicly with their predictions.

South African data analytics firm Principa is using “analytics and machine learning” to predict the results for every single 2018 FIFA World Cup match, but is clever enough to only commit to predictions round by round. Principa’s first round results are here.

A number of the big banks have applied “artificial intelligence, statistical modeling, portfolio theory, and economic analysis” to pick their winner (What country will win the 2018 World Cup? Here are big banks’ predictions).

Lloyds of London based its prediction on the Insurable value of the players, and experts from Germany’s Commerzbank analysed historical sports data over years, including home bias and the number of goals scored in previous World Cups, world rankings, and track record at previous tournaments, running 10,000 simulations on each game. Not surprisingly, Germany came out on top.

According to data company Gracenote, Brazil is the statistical favourite to win the World Cup in Russia, while Alteryx applied its analytics model to the 2014 World Cup to validate its 2018 predictions: “We took the 16-team 2014 round data and applied our model to it – we actually only got two results wrong” (Germany to win and England bow out to Brazil: Analytics firm predicts every single result in the World Cup 2018). They are much braver than Principa!

The Democracy Institute’s econometric soccer rankings “signal that Brazil, France, Spain, and Argentina are poised to under-achieve” while Uruguay, Switzerland, England, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Morocco, and Australia are likely “to exceed expectations.” (The freedom to win: World Cup 2018 economic predictor)

Team Twelve’s “Alpha Ball” system uses data derived from recent matches in 20 categories such as average attack success rates and attack and defence patterns, and EA Sports EA Sports used simulation created with the data from FIFA 18 to predict France as this year’s winner.

According to Sky News, bookmakers are backing Brazil while scientists using new machine learning (ML) techniques, including a method called the “random-forest approach”, have picked Germany. (How scientists are attempting to predict the World Cup 2018 winner)

Some other academics can’t split Brazil and Germany.

“Soccerbot”, developed by an applied mathematician who wrote Soccermatics, sounded promising, but I was put off finding out more when Australia (pictured above from a recent game in Canberra) was given odds of 500-1 to win, and I had to click through to a sports betting site to get more information. And weirdly, UK’s Telegraph wants us to apply our own rating of the key data factors – and to login to Facebook to “play”. I’m not prepared to do that.

While there are so many different analytical models out there that can be applied, what was interesting was that there were only four countries predicted to win across all the pundits reviewed: Brazil, France, Germany and Spain.

So I thought, why not use the work already done to make my own prediction? (‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ and all that.)

I tabulated the predictions, and made some weighting decisions. All the banks had a weighting of ‘one’ each (can we really trust them?); as an insurance company, Lloyds is probably more careful with its data analysis (and had the impressive-sounding Centre for Economics and Business Research helping with the analysis as well as predicting the outcome of the 2014 World Cup), so scored a ‘two’; and Gracenote and Alteryx as generalist data firms were also given a ‘one’ each.

Although the Democracy Institute expects Australia to do well in the tournament and impressively “draws upon the data provided in the Heritage Foundation’s “2018 Index of Economic Freedom”, the vagueness of its prediction scored it a ‘one’.

I included data from the official FIFA world rankings, giving this a ‘two’ weighting; and EA Sports also gets a ‘two’, for past history, successfully predicting the World Cup winners of 2010 and 2014. Team Twelve also got a ‘two’ as a specialist sports data firm.

Weightings of ‘three’ were reserved for the bookmakers – who have the most to lose by getting it wrong – and “scientists” and “statisticians” who, as academics, are perhaps the most objective in the whole thing.

So what were my findings?

Applying the weighting, it’s Brazil to win the 2018 World Cup (34%) ahead of Germany (30%), with France and Spain equal in third place (18%).

Here’s the table of predictions.

Predicting Entity Winning Team Weighting
Principa Not brave enough to predict N/A
UBS Germany 1
Goldman Sachs Brazil 1
ING Spain 1
Nomura France/Spain 1
Lloyds of London France 2
“Bookmakers” Brazil 3
“Scientists” Spain 3
Democracy Institute Germany 1
Gracenote Brazil 1
FIFA Germany 2
Alteryx Germany 1
EA Sports France 2
Commerzbank Germany 1
Team Twelve Brazil 2
Soccerbot I’m not going to a betting site N/A
“Statisticians” Brazil/Germany 3
Weighting Total   25

 

Although I’ve predicted Brazil to win, you can’t count out Germany. Former England striker Gary Lineker might be right: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”

To be honest, I think the most accurate prediction will be a democratic one. More than 500,000 people worldwide have already predicted the winner in the FIFA World Cup Bracket Challenge. Hopefully they’ll announce the people’s choice before the World Cup starts tonight!

Whatever happens, the next month will be amazing.

 

You’ve got to be in it to win it

May 4, 2018

16488394468_dbfbf630cf_zGreat news overnight, with one of Explore Communications’ clients winning an Australian CRN Impact Award.

While winning is no certainty, industry awards and formal recognition are a fantastic boost to the business in so many different ways. There is of course the exposure and networking opportunities of the awards event itself, the broader publicity that comes from it, the third-party validation that you are doing something that is at the top of your industry, and the great feeling of having an accolade that is yours to promote until next year’s awards come around. And, if there is an individual or team recognised from your business with the award, it has a fantastic positive effect on staff morale and culture.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that winning an award like this doesn’t just happen. If the award program requires a detailed submission to go to a judging panel (which most do), having the best piece of technology, the best project or the best business performance isn’t going to be enough on its own. Judges might be wading through hundreds of submissions, so the ones that stand out are those which demonstrate that a lot of thought, effort and time has gone into completing it.

To stand up and sing for the judges, the story behind the submission needs to be compelling, it needs to be well-written and well-researched, it needs to represent the voices of the various parties and stakeholders involved, and it has to convey how the company has smashed it out of the park in relation to the subject of the award itself.

It’s true that you have to be in it to win it, but if the awards program is run with any form of rigour and impartiality (which most are) , there’s no point just dashing off your submission the night before deadline.

Instead, take your time. Normally, awards are announced a couple of months out from submission deadlines, so work out which categories you can enter, and if you think you have a good chance if winning, then give yourself at least a month to get the submission right.

And even if you don’t win, the work you have put into the submission won’t have gone to waste. It can be used in a whole lot of other ways afterwards: for case studies, press releases, marketing materials, client communications, newsletters, new website or intranet content, blog posts, annual reports or to update your corporate profile.

(Pictured top: “2015 Stevie Awards 0214” by mikeg44311. Reused under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence. And, yes, Explore Communications has also helped a client win a Stevie Award in the past!)

 

Vegemite: Original vs Blend 17

March 15, 2018

VegemiteBusinesses are constantly looking for that next growth opportunity or new revenue stream, and coming up with marketing strategies to deliver on that goal. That’s an easy thing to achieve if you are a start-up, but not so simple if you are an established brand with a deeply entrenched product or service.

Take Vegemite as an example. “A thick, black Australian food spread made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract” (from Wikipedia), Vegemite has been an institution here for the best part of a century (and a mystery as to why we like it so much for people from other countries). In 2009, a  new version of Vegemite was released, mixed with cream cheese. It made news for being a massive branding failure (“iSnack 2.0“) but it was pretty clear to see it was an attempt to make people use more of the product. You see, most people spread Vegemite very thinly. In my house, the amount I put on my toast is considered excessive (see above), which should give you an idea.

With its intensity diluted by the cream cheese, what was ultimately called Vegemite Cheesybite seemed to be all about increasing the spread amount and therefore consumption volume.

If your target market doesn’t perceive that you are adding value, they will see your strategy for what it ultimately is – an attempt to influence overall consumption levels for revenue and profit growth.

Which brings us to Blend 17. Hot on the heels of the return of Vegemite to Australian hands (by Bega Cheese last year), this new boutique variety was launched, retailing for more than double the price of the ordinary Vegemite.

So, instead of a strategy that increases consumption volumes, this one is about convincing people to pay more for the same quantity. Does that strategy work? Only if the consumer perceives they are getting added value.

With Blend 17 finally on sale for the same per weight price as normal Vegemite, I bought a jar.

The verdict?

Maybe a slightly smoother, more intense flavour, but only marginally better than the original and certainly not worth paying double for it. Which probably explains why it was 50% off when I bought it.

So what’s the answer? How can you generate more revenue and profit from one of your flagship brands? Keep innovating, but whatever you do don’t jeopardise the brand equity and consumer loyalty built up in your core product (think BBQ Shapes).

Come up with new packaging and bundling ideas using the original product. Look for new markets – Vegemite managed to win over Australians, so why not the Dutch? They like salted liquorice, after all.