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Spring Cleaning for IT Systems

  
  
  
  
  

Chris Sutherland Author: Chris Sutherland, CSutherland@jackhenry.com

 

Winter has come and gone, or at least we all hope so around my house. I have three boys and we always have a sporting event going on, but this time of the year mom can also always find a spring cleaning task that needs to be completed: cleaning closets, the garage, washing windows; we can go on and on.

Your IT Department can be handled the same way.  As an installation engineer I can make a good case that cleaning of systems do not happen often enough. I have seen so many IT systems out there that have files that have not been touched for months, years, or even decades.  In a world where storage space can be a hot commodity and back-up jobs seem to get larger and take longer to complete, a good spring cleaning of the shared directories is something that IT administrators should put on their calendars as well.

So the next question is how do you determine what is safe to clean up?  The age old argument is that “if I delete it, someone will want it”.  Are there tools that can help administrators with determining the files that no one has really accessed?  In the release of Windows Server® 2008 there was a feature added to the operating system called file server role.  This role allows many things that most administrators are not taking advantage of.  With this feature enabled you have the ability to do several things that can make life simpler. For example:

  • Get reports generated to talk with management and users about what’s on the system.
  • Set policies for quota limits on folders, groups, or users.
  • Create access policies as well as policies to report on files that have not been accessed in a period of time that you as an administrator can determine.
  • Have the ability to enable de-duplication on your files servers (if you have also updated or are considering the latest Windows Server® 2012 operating system).  This is particularly great for those financial institutions that seem to have the same copy of a file in one user’s directory; a group’s shared folder and then the correct original location. We know that never happens, yea right.

These are just a few ideas for you to think about for spring cleaning your IT systems.  Have you already started some spring cleaning?  Have questions or other tips – share them!

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For Customers, UX = XOXO

  
  
  
  
  

Kevin Moland Author: Kevin Moland, KMoland@profitstars.com

In the early 1990’s, the owner of the small commercial bank where I served as the Data Processing Officer decided to shake things up a bit by removing a relatively popular head of operations and replacing him with the Vice President of Marketing. Marketing! As seasoned operations managers, my peers and I settled in for the train wreck we knew was coming.

But then, something incredible happened.

I remember the first meeting with our newly crowned leader. Sitting in his glass-walled office, looking out over the couple dozen employees in the operations center, the following conversation ensued:

New Boss: So, who waits on customers when they come to the Customer Service counter?

Team: The interns and junior members of the group.

New Boss: Well, who knows the most and could help the customers most effectively?

Team: The senior staff, but they’ve been here longer and they don’t have to wait on customers anymore.

New Boss: So, when customers come, we don’t send the people who could help them the most. Instead, we send the people who can help them the least?

He looked at us. We looked down at our shoes. And then everything began to change.

Under his guidance, we began to put a premium on real customer service and on the people who engaged our clients at the front line. We became much more interested in what our customers had to say and, based on survey results, we began to analyze and improve every area that involved direct customer interaction. After a year, our operations staff began leaving for jobs on the teller line or at the new accounts desks because our entire organization had come to value (and compensate) those with the skills to provide superior face-to-face customer service.

I thought about those events recently while reading a series of articles about managing the online user experience. With online services becoming a more frequent touch point for customers and members, it’s important for financial institutions to consider the level of customer service embedded in their electronic channels. If you want to give your customers and members a consistent, positive impression of your organization, you have to extend your penchant for service to your technology products, too.

In software circles, UX (User Experience) is the new buzzword. Driven primarily by the smartphone and tablet revolution, users now expect more effective and engaging online services. "User-friendly" has always been a goal for technology vendors, but thanks to the remarkable capabilities inherent in today’s smartphones and tablets, the bar for online engagement has been pushed dramatically higher. This is especially true in the financial services arena, where products are highly commoditized and customer service is one of the few—if not the only—legitimate means of distinguishing your organization from its competitors.

So how can banks and credit unions be sure their technology-based offerings provide the same high level of customer service as their people? Since most community institutions rely on vendor partners for these services, the more pertinent question could be how can you be sure your technology partners care as much about your users' experience as you do?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether or not a current or prospective vendor is likely to provide an optimal experience for your users.

1. Is this vendor dedicated to customer service?

It's important to remember that UX is just an online extension of good, old fashioned customer service. If your vendor provides a poor customer service experience for you, how likely are they provide a top notch online experience for your customers or members? Vendors that place a priority on customer service, including a willingness to interact directly with your clients as part of a first-level support program, are far more likely to meet those clients' needs as they design and improve their products.

2. When asked about UX, does the vendor maximize or minimize its importance?

You can often determine from conversations with its product managers or executives whether or not a particular vendor "gets it" regarding UX design. While you can't rely on lip service alone to gauge a vendor's commitment to providing an excellent user experience, it could be a red flag if a company doesn't verbalize their UX commitment well when asked about it specifically.

3. Most importantly, do a vendor’s recent and upcoming releases provide evidence that UX is one of their primary product themes?

Take a look at a company's recently released products. Do they exhibit evidence of insightful UX design? Ask about their product roadmap. Since most roadmaps are built around a handful of primary themes, you should be able to tell if UX is one of those themes by determining if a meaningful percentage of proposed enhancements demonstrate an effort to improve the user experience. You may even want to ask who a company relies on for UX expertise. Because it's an emerging field, many companies—even large ones—rely on industry experts to help them optimize the UX. If a vendor’s reps just say, "Oh, our developers are pretty good at that kind of thing," chances are, they aren't.

At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is to let your vendors know that you care about UX. Vendors understand that what's important to you has to be important to them, too. If you speak up, your UX focus will eventually become their UX focus. You’ve worked hard to make your customers and members feel loved and appreciated in all their interactions with your company. If you want them to keep feeling that love, be sure you focus on UX when evaluating new or existing technology partners.

What the Movie Industry Taught me about Merchant Processing Services

  
  
  
  
  

Rob Hudecek Author: Rob Hudecek, RHudecek@profitstars.com

My father is a Director of Photography with over 40 years of experience working in film and television. Growing up in the “industry” allowed me the unique opportunity to become a lighting film crew member for several films, including “My Best Friend’s Wedding” with Julia Roberts and “Hoffa” with Jack Nicholas and Danny DeVito (and to date was the best part-time job I have ever had). Fortunately, this was not a position that was simply given to me, and I had to earn and learn my way from the ground up.

If you have ever watched behind-the-scenes footage of a film being made, you will notice there are more parts and people behind the camera than there are in the front. From lighting to grip equipment, to cables to set decoration, my biggest challenge starting out was knowing what equipment and configuration to use in order to create a scene that seemed natural to the viewer. Seeking advice from my father, he simply stated that he always starts with what he wants the scene to look like and then works backwards from there. Creativity without knowledge only gets you part of the way, as you also need to understand the capabilities and limitations of the equipment and people attached to the project in order for any scene to succeed.

Lights camera action

This same advice can be used for almost any industry. Often times we emphasize, or even get overwhelmed by, the number of tools we have at our disposal, rather than visualizing the solution first and working backwards. When offering merchant treasury services, from remote deposit capture to lockbox, this is no less true. As the number of financial software features and modules continue to grow, it is easy to lose sight of what the merchant actually needs to accomplish their goals. Where we see software tools, merchants only see the presented solution. Just as in a film scene, every merchant’s need is a little different, and there is often more than one way to fulfill them. Where many service offerings fall short and customer frustrations arise is when we try to standardize the merchant, rather than make the service a natural extension of their business. The two ways to begin this process is by knowing your merchant and knowing the available tools.

Know Your Merchant

We often use this statement exclusively for risk; however this same approach can be used to help set the merchant “scene” as well:

  • What type of business do they have?
  • What type of payments do they receive (check, cash, credit card, reoccurring, payment portals, etc.)?
  • Know their payment volumes (monthly / seasonal highs & lows).
  • Additional image requirements (i.e. coupon / correspondence / envelopes including scannable versus non-scannable item handling).
  • Field records that need to be captured and interfaced with their receivables and / or payables.
  • Turnaround / cutoff times as well as physical / image item retention requirements.
  • Industry or specific features & requests (PCI Compliance, HIPAA, and so forth).

Know Your Tools

Strong awareness of the available software features is required to construct the solution for your merchant:

  • Hardware and operating system environments supported for the merchant.
  • What scanner capabilities do they need (auto feed, endorsements, mixed work, speed, OCR capable, and so forth)?
  • Real-time, near real-time, or batch posting requirements.
  • Scalability based on merchant growth (additional volume, locations, etc.).
  • Security and division of duties.
  • Customized branding and integration into current platforms.
  • Ability to support the merchant (technical and best practice recommendations).

Though you may not be able to standardize every merchant scenario, you can make the solutions appear like they are. Start employing a shared vision with your merchant, backed by knowledge of all the available software tools. From this baseline you can often leverage “in the box” products to create the necessary “out of the box” solutions for your customers.

How to Market to Millennials: Tips You Can Use

  
  
  
  
  

Author: Barbara Vega, BVega@profitstars.com

If you remember a time before cable TV and microwaves, you’re not a millennial. If you remember a time before computers and cell phones, you’re not a millennial. If you remember a time when there was no ‘e’ before mail, you’re definitely not a millennial.

Millennials, or Gen Y’s, are those born between 1982 and 1993 and a generation that’s roughlymillennial mobile banking 77 million strong; larger than the Baby Boomer generation and three times the size of Generation X.  Generations, like people, have personalities. Millennials –teens and twenty-something’s currently making the passage into adulthood – have begun to build theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living.  And this generation is wired…or should I say wireless.

Today’s kids are tomorrow’s customers and members. If your financial institution is going to flourish in the future, you need to start courting the next generation of money-makers now. And be warned: these young consumers have very different financial habits than their parents! So what to do?

Understand them!

Ironically, we have a high-tech group of individuals that are very social, but in impersonal ways. These young people are very connected virtually; texting, tweeting, FaceBooking, Instagramming is the way to communicate.

This digitally endemic group has pushed back each of the five milestones of adulthood: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having children. The Pew Research Center’s survey, Young, Underemployed and Optimistic, gives us a great insight into Gen Y’s situation. The report showed, among other things, that 34% of 25-29 year olds have moved back home with their parents.

Access them through the technology and mobile arena

Connect with them where they exist! Millennials have grown up in a world where they are surrounded by technology, and that technology has developed at a faster rate than ever before.

A Cisco Connected Worldwide Technology survey discovered that 90% of Gen Y checks their emails, texts and social media accounts using their smartphones before they even get out of bed. There is also evidence that millennials do everything online, from shopping, to reading the news and watching television. Convenience and immediacy are priorities for this group of individuals, especially when it comes to banking. A LemonTree white paper, Understanding the New Age Wave: Gen Y, found 80% have used online banking in the past month, a higher percentage than any other generation. “They are less likely to ever enter a bank branch and want to do all their banking on their own schedule from home. Because of this, mobile banking has also taken off for Gen Y.” They also use this service more frequently than the average customer.

Educate them

Gen Y consumers don’t necessarily want high tech solutions in isolation; just as important, they want support, advice, and more knowledgeable people speaking to them than they currently experience in their banking interactions. A large number of Gen Y consumers have never balanced a checkbook, but instead they monitor their accounts online to manage their finances; and 25 percent say they do not manage their finances at all.  

Fifty-four percent of millennials are going into their bank branch for information; 62 percent are going online. While 59 percent reported that they are "extremely" or "very" knowledgeable about their day-to-day banking products like checking accounts, they still want advice on personal finance topics, including savings, creating a budget, and credit cards.

Unify your product landscape – make it easy and clear

A dedicated strategy is needed when engaging Gen Y. As millennials are different from other customers, roughly one third of financial institutions have designed specific strategies to win them over. Millennials are desperate for a better banking experience; one with lower, more transparent fees, convenient access and emergency credit options. Use of social media for marketing and reaching out to their customers to launch new products, make announcements and drive new conversations with their customers is becoming common place as a way to get the attention of this generation.

Focus on customer service consistency

One of the cornerstones of the Gen Y engagement is a great banking experience.  Enhancing the customer experience is the key to attracting millennial customers.  As payment behavior changes, and traditional bank customers give way to a younger generation, the relationship between a customer and its bank will help secure that banks are relevant. If banks want to serve these customers profitably, they will need to leverage that relationship and find new ways of doing business with them.

Remember - today’s kids are tomorrow’s customers and members. As baby boomers retire, the millennials will move into their roles. With increases in job responsibility will come increased purchasing power. As this large group ages, they will begin hitting their big earning years and focus more on retirement and investing. 

It’s Spring: Time to Grow Your Online Bill Pay

  
  
  
  
  

Author: Lauren Gleim, lgleim@jackhenry.com

Tomorrow is the first day of spring, warmer days are coming, and I can hear The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” playing in my head. Spring is the time of year where the world is a little brighter, and what better way to celebrate than to do a little sprucing.

Grow Online Bill PayTime to go through your closets, clean up the garden, and grow your online bill pay.  That’s right!

You may be asking, “How can I grow our online bill pay?”  Here are three helpful ways to spring your online bill pay adoption:You can do it all.  It’s spring!  Brighten up your financial institution by planting those online bill pay seeds for your customers.   

  1. Employee Engagement – You want to increase your online bill pay adoption? Start with your financial institutions’ best asset: your staff. Because you can’t sell what you don’t know, why not train and encourage team members to use your online bill pay?  Employee engagement will lead to customer engagement. It’s a win-win. 
  2. Social Media Platforms – Your institution may be leery of sharing on social media sites. However, the best forum to have a conversation with your customers is through these platforms. Engage with your customers, educate them, and share the benefits of using your online bill pay.

    Spring into action by utilizing these popular social media sites:
     
    • Facebook – World’s largest social networking site connecting people with “friends.” Every business should start with this one. You can even track how many people saw your post with Facebook’s Insights Data.
    • Twitter – This online social networking and microblogging site allows you to communicate the latest and greatest news with your followers. Announce your online bill pay, ask questions/opinions, and receive instant feedback.
    • LinkedIn – Looking to build relationships and do some business networking? Share with other businesses about how they can utilize business bill pay. Your institution’s staff can connect, and share your information too!
    • Google+ – This is a relatively new, Google-owned platform, but it is growing fast! It’s an excellent means to strategically interact with customers/businesses by targeting your audience through circles. Get people to +1 your post and drive traffic to your website.
  3. Email Marketing– Email is still one of the best vehicles to use when communicating with customers. However, keep a few things in mind before you press send:
    • Timeliness –Send out your communications at optimal times/dates.  Take advantage of sending timely emails when you know your customers are most engaged.  For example, when a customer enrolls in your product, send them a welcome email that day.  This email will not only confirm their enrollment, but it provides an opportunity to help them get started using your product. 
    • Relevancy – If your customers are online banking users, then they are also likely to be interested in your online bill pay. Once a customer signs up for online banking, send them an email that explains the benefits and features of bill pay with a call to action to enroll.
    • Frequency – Try to avoid sending too many emails. However, don’t send too little either. Test and determine the perfect email balance based on open rates.

This spring, do your institution and your customers a favor by sprucing up your online bill pay promotion. Don’t know where to begin? Check out iPay’s Resource Center. It’s a free service and contains materials focused on educating customers about online bill pay to help your institution grow.

Mobile Remote Disruption: Preempting Defection

  
  
  
  
  

Lee Wetherington Author: Lee Wetherington, LWetherington@profitstars.com

It’s a new year, and the analysts have all weighed in with their predictions and projections for 2014. While some are bullish and others bearish with respect to various trends and technologies, there is consensus in key areas:

  • The absolute number of branches will shrink.
  • Mobile payments are still a few years off.
  • And mobile remote deposit capture will be the most widely adopted new technology among financial institutions this year.

Though many experts champion the advantages of mobile remote deposit (mRDC), few point out the threat it poses in the hands of competitors. Fewer still recognize how mRDC, in combination with prepaid cards and mobile PFM, is being used to challenge the value proposition of traditional banking and to poach segments (Gen Y.2 and high-income households) that are demographically and fiscally important to the ongoing viability of all financial institutions. You must be prepared to fight fire with fire.

The “DeBanked”

According to estimates by Ron Shevlin at Aite Group, 7% of U.S. households have already voluntarily left their traditional banks and credit unions for other options. Why? The checking account ain’t what it used to be: fewer checks, abundant overdrafts, higher fees, and no/low interest. Not exactly a captivating combination.

Perhaps a bigger concern than the “DeBanked” are those Shevlin calls the “PreBanked”, i.e, consumers who own both a prepaid card and a traditional checking account. The “PreBanked” earn more (US$100k) and enjoy more full-time employment than the average banked consumer; the supermajority are also Gen X or Gen Y. But why would these consumers need a prepaid card from a third party?

Enter, “Disruptors”

What do Moven, Simple, and Google Wallet all have in common? First, before Simple’s recent acquisition by BBVA, none were financial institutions. Second, each offers mobile remote deposit capture as a way to divert funds from your customers to the disruptor’s decoupled debit/prepaid cards. Third, with funds in place, each disruptor then offers mobile apps with robust Personal Financial Management (PFM) features that give consumers better and more meaningful ways to spend, shop, save, and manage finances.

Now, you may think these disruptors present a negligible challenge. “DeBanked” defections only present a $1.2B revenue threat, according to Aite—small relative to industry totals. More worrisome, however, is that you may not recognize the “PreBanked” defections at all because these customers’ won’t close their checking accounts with you. None of the disruptors above require consumers to leave their banks or credit unions. In fact, 90% of consumers who own prepaid cards also have checking accounts. But this just makes the threat more pernicious.

In effect, the mobile remote deposit disruption described above slowly reduces your financial institution to a passive funding source that feeds another provider’s more robust service for the customer you now share. When that “disruptor” is acquired by a big bank, as Simple has now been acquired by BBVA, that shared customer must now consider whether to remain with your financial institution or simply move everything over to the new big-bank owner of their beloved mobile PFM provider.

Three-Party Networks

And the party doesn’t end there. Keep an eye on the “three-party networks” that the Fed’s Reg II exempts from Durbin limits. Like the disruptors above, PayPal, American Express, and Discover all offer mRDC as a funding mechanism for the card-based mobile-PFM services they provide.

Discover’s “Cash Back Checking” account not only offers mRDC, a debit card, and online bill payment, it also pays the consumer 10 cents for each check written, each debit card swiped, and each bill payment made. Free from the Durbin rate caps, Discover, American Express, and PayPal enjoy transaction economics that give them the flexibility to aggressively price their “neo-checking” offerings.

So, remember, mRDC isn’t just about doing right by your smartphone-equipped customers and members. It’s just as much about giving them one less excuse to take that first step away and about levelling the playing field against competitors who aren’t afraid to exploit their regulatory exemptions.

If you’re under $10B in assets, you enjoy your own exemptions from Durbin. Fight fire with fire.

Discover card bank

NIST Cybersecurity Framework Standards

  
  
  
  
  

Karen Crumbley Author: Karen Crumbley, karenc@gladtech.net

The Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum or “Out of many, one” printed on coins could summarize the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) document released last month titled, Cybersecurity Framework Standards.  The message is easy to understand; businesses must take an active role in protecting their assets through cybersecurity awareness thereby “increasing the cybersecurity posture of the Nation’s critical infrastructure as a whole.”  The document further explains, “This approach is necessary regardless of an organization’s size, threat exposure, or cybersecurity sophistication today.”

There is little guessing as to why NIST was compelled to publish these standards.  Major retail store breaches involving card security fraud have brought this topic to the forefront.  Financial Institutions (FIs) want federal legislation in place to protect them from costly incidents due to retailer insufficient security standards.  Card brands are also under heavy scrutiny regarding their security controls and technology.  Retail customers have had their financial informationcybersecurity compromised.  There are clearly multiple stakeholders when it comes to cybersecurity breaches.  The FI cannot mitigate all of the risks on their own.  Everybody must get involved to defend against cybersecurity.

Another positive aspect for FIs is that the NIST Standards genuinely complement business customer educational efforts FIs are providing to raise awareness regarding cybersecurity and online banking transactions.  For example, the framework enables organizations of all “size, degree of cybersecurity risk, or cybersecurity sophistication- to apply the principles and best practices of risk management to improving the security and resilience of critical infrastructure.” 

The document breaks down five Framework Core Functions

  1. Identify cybersecurity risks to systems, data, and capabilities. 
  2. Protect by developing the appropriate safeguards to ensure delivery of critical infrastructure services. 
  3. Detect by implementing appropriate activities to identify the occurrence of a cybersecurity event. 
  4. Respond by taking action regarding a cybersecurity event. 
  5. Recover by maintaining plans for resilience and moving back to normal operations as promptly as possible. 

In line with the previous list of five core functions, there have been continual efforts by Congress and the Senate regarding federal breach notification laws in recent years.  If passed, the federal legislation would provide uniform procedures for all businesses that experience significant data breaches.  However, the question that continues to resurface for this initiative is, “Do we need security regulation as well?”  Interestingly, FIs are no stranger to standards in security when it comes to their own network environment.  They have had regulatory requirements and guidance in place to advance this initiative for eons.  Now, FI business customers may begin to experience some of those same regulatory realizations.  Although the NIST document provides a “framework for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity”, ultimately there is no push to require businesses to implement any of these standards.  However, the publication signifies something important - cybersecurity as a standard business function.  Regardless of the outcome of this voluntary NIST framework, FIs, government, consumers, and businesses all need to put forth the effort to improve the existing security gaps and work as one, not in opposition.

E pluribus Unum…

Learn More About ProfitStarsInformation Security \u0026amp\u003B Risk Mgmt Solutions

 

The “Art” of the Partnership

  
  
  
  
  

Danny Payne Author: Danny Payne, DanPayne@ProfitStars.com

I thought I would keep this post simple and stick to something closely related to my world.  Webster’s dictionary defines a partnership as “a legal relationship existing between two or more persons contractually associated as joint principals in a business.”  That’s surely a clear cut way to define a partnership, but it might not define the kind of partner your business is looking for.  A true partnership finds a balance in all the ups and downs that each day bringsPartnership us and works for the betterment for both sides.  Like a personal partnership, a corporate partnership also seeks out the right partner to create a mutually beneficial arrangement that addresses the needs of both parties while avoiding setbacks or obstacles to the other.

So, how do you define a “good partner”?  What makes a good partnership work between two companies with two products?  Here are some principles to follow:

  • Role Definition – What does the company bring to the partnership, and how does your company benefit from partnering?  How involved do you want this partner to be with your customers/prospects?  Does this fit the mold of the type of organization you want involved with your customers/prospects?  Who is the face of your organization engaging with those people buying?
  • Goals - The goals of both companies need to align and the results must be beneficial for both groups.  Without a cooperative plan, one side will always be looking for something more from the partnership.  Collaboration, communication, compromise are all critical to establish the best objectives.
  • Synergy - The product, sales, and operational teams must work in cooperation to create as much synergy as possible between both companies to create a solution that shows the partnership to the prospect/customer.  Ineffective sales and delivery partnerships are doomed for failure
  •  Flexibility - A true partnership is flexible and the services delivery channel partner in the same way is serves the partner’s product being sold.  If there is a unique opportunity to service a current VIP customer of the channel partner, the product partner may have to commit to specific pricing or delivery dates to better serve the overall relationship.
  • Longevity - The toughest part of any good partnership is the relationship that happens after the execution of the sales plan.  Being the same strong, loyal, and dedicated partner is the true test of time.  Especially when there aren’t as many sales, but now there is ongoing revenue.  This, in my opinion, is the partnerships you are looking for.

The list could go on and on, but there are a few core values when opening up your company, your bank, your credit union, and even your team to a solutions partner that has their own list of ideas and agendas coming into the partnership.  Every partner is unique and provides another exciting opportunity to another set of customers or another set of products, but it’s complicated and you need to know with whom you are sharing and exposing your customers.

There are partners “born” every day, and press releases to follow.  The very best partnerships do not involve a lot of pomp and circumstance, they involve results.  The partners worth the time, energy and resources involved to make it successful are those that follow some or all of the guidelines above, and at the heart of it have as much invested in your success as their own.  While some partnerships just “happen”, the truly powerful partnership is researched, analyzed, assembled, cultivated and nurtured.

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Technology Buzzwords

  
  
  
  
  

Author: Eric Wilson, ewilson@profitstars.com

There’s no debate that technology is drastically impacting the financial services industry and our daily lives.  As new products and technologies emerge, along with them comes new terminology.  Here are a few buzzwords you are likely to hear a lot more of in the future and why they matter.

Responsive Web Design

Applications that become heavily adopted are usually the ones that have a great user interface design.  When everything is the right size and in the right place, using a well-designed application can be a pleasant and seamless experience.  Really good software designers and engineers know this and tend to be highly skilled at making the most logical use of available space. 

Interior designers use a similar approach with a technique called “space planning”.  If you have a floor plan with dimensions, you can design a room before ever actually seeing the place. 

A fine strategy…until the dimensions change!  When you move to a house with a new layout, your design will be different.  

The same problem can occur when trying to use a software application across devices ofResponsive Web Design various screen sizes.  What may work great on a 17” desktop monitor with a keyboard and mouse can be ineffective to use on a 4” smartphone with a touch screen.   

Responsive web design will help move web based products toward a device agnostic culture.  The concept is for the application to “respond” based on the user’s equipment in order to provide a high quality experience on all devices.

It accomplishes this through flexible layouts, images, and grids that intelligently adapt to a user’s environment.  As you view the product on different devices (or flip them on their side!), the screen layout may change in ways that are more appropriate for the device you are using. 

In the future, many web applications are likely to shift towards a responsive design approach.  Since web design is as much of an art as it is science, how well it responds to different devices will be a huge part of a product’s adoption rate.  Consider this when looking at cross-device compatible products for you and your customers.

Internet of Things (IOT)

The number of physical objects connecting to the internet is expanding at an extremely rapid rate.  It is estimated that there will be 26 billion “things” connected to the internet in 2020.  We are talking about much more than PC’s, tablets, and smartphones.  These devices can be anything from thermostats, appliances, health monitors, or anything else that has an on/off switch. 

When you add the internet into the equation, the physical objects around us can transmit data related to their function and even work collaboratively with other devices.  Here are some examples of how internet connected objects are already being put into action in an attempt to improve the overall quality of life. 

  • Sensors are being used to provide information on the source and freshness of food. 
  • Advanced detection systems have been created to alert or notify potential natural disasters of emergencies. 
  • Thermostats and other household devices can be controlled and monitored remotely.

Coordinated devices working together (often without human input) can impact everything we do. The opportunities for innovation are endless. 

Regardless of how you feel about it, the Internet of Things seems headed to our front door, and it’s likely to have a big impact on everything.

Data Science (especially with Big Data)

The amount of data being stored in the world today is so large we will need more words added to the English language just to quantify it!  Stored data is now into the zettabytes. (In case you are interested, the order goes gigabyte, terabyte, petabyte, exabyte and zettabyte.)  There’s only one numbering value left (yottabyte) before we will need new words to describe the size of all that information.

Almost all industries are realizing that there is huge potential in data.  According to the McKinsey & Company:

“Big Data is the biggest game changing opportunity for marketing and sales since the internet was invented almost 20 years ago”. 

If you work in the financial services industry, you probably already see data analytics in action assisting executives and risk management professionals with risk mitigation and regulatory compliance. 

Data science incorporates mathematics, models, and other techniques to extract knowledge from data (especially “Big Data”).  As data pools continue to grow and sources of data are combined, good tools to help people analyze all that data will become increasingly essential.

Maybe you’re already using one or all of the technologies I described, or these buzzwords were common knowledge to you.  If so, please share your experience – we’d love to hear from you. 

Data, Data, Everywhere

  
  
  
  
  

Author: Paul Miniutti, PMiniutti@profitstars.com

The new National Security Agency’s Data Warehouse Center outside of Salt Lake City, Utah spans 1.5 million square feet.  That’s enough space to fit over ten average sized Costco’s.  Some unconfirmed estimates put the data storage capacity at 500 million terabytes.  And that’s, well, a lot.

According to IBM, every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data.  When you consider that this blog post accounts for about one thousand bytes, do the math on that daily number, I dare you.

We are in a new era of data creation and consumption.  You may have heard of the term, “big data”, which refers to a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis.  Or put another way - a “ginormous” amount of data.

There’s obviously a lot of data and a lot of things businesses can do with that data.  But data itself does not equate to intelligence.  The challenging part with big data is being able to produce useful analytics from it that provide real business value.  It is critical to constantly assess the value of the analytics produced.  There have been numerous reports that cite the difficulties businesses are having in producing a healthy ROI for the data warehouses they have built.  Some of the challenges include:

  • Infrastructure costs
  • Data security
  • Finding adequately skilled staff
  • And producing analytics that drift from providing useful information to helping drive the business. 

With big data the trick is to start small.  Understand the growth potential and infrastructure costs to securely support data growth. Prove that the technology you will use can be supported with your staff.  Analyze small subsets of the data to confirm the value it holds for your business.  And, put motivated, inquisitive, dedicated folks on the development team as the technology and analytics needed will surely change.

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