Even the federal government gets it now. That is, the government has taken notice of the potential benefits and savings of cloud services. And since government data requires extra special care and compliance, cloud providers are creating government-centric offerings. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) aims to streamline service adoption across agencies with a “do once, use many times” approach to cloud service purchasing and implementation. By approving providers ahead of time, agencies can move quickly from provisioning to launch.
FedRAMP was created by the General Services Administration to improve efficiency. Agencies requiring cloud services rely on it to evaluate cloud services already cleared for government use. And participation in FedRAMP is mandatory for agencies requiring cloud services. Agencies using services not currently approved will have two years to prove compliance.
As you might expect, the vetting process revolves around security. Providers must document and test security, then be subject to third-party review. FedRAMP doesn’t use an all-new standard, instead requiring compliance with the existing NIST SP 800-53.
FedRAMP was established to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and address the growing desire to move operations into the cloud. And while documented time and cost-savings from participating providers or agencies isn’t yet publicly available, there’s good reason for optimism. Access to deployment savings reports will likely prove the program’s value over time.
On a recent morning, as I was going through my usual routine, my coffeemaker broke. I cannot live without coffee in the morning, so I immediately looked up my coffeemaker on Amazon and had it shipped Prime in one day. My problem was solved within minutes. My Amazon app, and my loyalty account with that company, was there for me when I needed it most.
It was in this moment that I realized the importance of digital presence for retailers. There is a chance that the store 10 minutes from my house carries this very same coffeemaker; I could have had it in one hour, instead of one day. But the need for immediate access to information pushed me to the online store. My local retailer was not able to be there for me digitally like Amazon.
Retail is still about reading the minds of your customers in order to know what they need and create a flawless experience. But the days of the unconnected shopper in a monochannel world are over. I am not alone in my digital-first mindset; according to a recent MasterCard report, 80% of consumers use technology during the shopping process. I, and consumers like me, use mobile devices as a guide to the physical world.
We don’t need to have an academic discussion about multichannel, omnichannel, and omnicommerce and their meanings, because what it really comes down to for your consumers, or fans, is shopping. And shopping has everything to do with moments in your customers’ lives: celebration moments, in-a-hurry moments, I-want-to-be-entertained moments, and more. Most companies only look for and measure very few moments along the shopping journey, like the moment of coupon download or the moment of sales.
Anticipating these moments was easier when mom and pop stores knew their customers by name. They knew how to be there for their shoppers when, where, and how they wanted it. And shoppers didn’t have any other options. Now it is crucial for companies to understand all of these moments and even anticipate or trigger the right moments for their customers.
In today’s digital economy the way to achieve customer connection is with simple, enjoyable, and personalized front ends that are supported by sophisticated, digital back ends. Then you can use that system to support your customer outreach.
Companies around the world are using creative and innovative methods to find their customers in various moments. Being there for customers comes in many different shapes and forms. Consider these examples:
A Brazilian maker of fashion sunglasses, glasses, and watches, Chilli Beans has a loyal following online and at over 700 locations around the world. Chilli Beans keeps its customers engaged by releasing 10 limited-edition styles each week. If customers like what they see, they have to buy fast or risk missing out.
Online men’s fashion retailer Bonobos reaches its customers with its Guide Shops. While they look like traditional retail outlets, the shops don’t actually sell any clothes. Customers come in for one-on-one appointments with the staff, and if they like anything that they try on, the staff member orders it for them online and it is shipped to their house. The 20 Guide Shops currently open have proven very successful for the company.
Peak Performance, a European maker of outdoor clothing, has added a little magic to its customer experience. It has created virtual pop-up shops that customers can track on their smartphones through CatchMagicHour.com, and they are only available at sunrise and sunset at exact GPS locations. Customers who go to the location, be it at a lighthouse or on top of a mountain, are rewarded with the ability to select free clothing from the virtual shop that they have unlocked on their phones.
Shoes of Prey
The customer experience is completely custom at Shoes of Prey, a website where women can design custom shoes. From fabric to color, the customer picks every element, and then her custom creation is sent directly to her house. Shoes of Prey has even shifted its business model based on customer feedback. Its customers wanted to get inspiration and advice in a physical store. So Shoes of Prey made the move from online-only to omnicommerce and has started to open stores around the world.
While the customer experience for each of these connections is relatively simple – a website, a smartphone, an online design studio – the back end that powers them has to be powerful and nimble at the same time. These sophisticated back ends – powering simple, enjoyable, and personalized front ends – will completely change the game in retail. They will allow companies to engage their customers in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.
Technology will help you be there in the shopping moment. The best technology won’t annoy your customers with irrelevant promotions or pop-up messages. Instead, like a good friend, it will know how to engage with customers and when to leave them alone – how to truly connect with customers instead of manage them. Consequently, customer relationship management as we know it is an outdated technology in the economy of today – and tomorrow. Technologies that go beyond CRM will help retailers to differentiate. Aligning your organization and those technologies will be the Holy Grail to creating true and sustainable customer loyalty.
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About Ralf Kern
Ralf Kern is the Global Vice President, Business Unit Retail, at SAP, responsible for the future direction of SAP’s solution and global Go-to-Market strategy for Omnicommerce Retail, leading them into today’s digital reality.
Today the Internet of Things is revamping technology.
Smart devices speak to each other and work together to provide the end user with a better product experience.
Coinciding with this change in technology is a change in people. We’ve transitioned from a world of people who love processed foods and french fries to people who eat kale chips and Greek yogurt…and actually like it.
People are taking ownership of their well-being, and preventative care is at the forefront of focus for both physicians and patients. Fitness trackers alert wearers of the exact number of calories burned from walking a certain number of steps. Mobile apps calculate our perfect nutritional balance. And even while we sleep, people are realizing that it’s important to monitor vitals.
According to research conducted at Harvard University, proper sleep patterns bolster healthy side effects such as improved immune function, a faster metabolism, preserved memory, and reduced stress and depression.
Conversely, the Harvard study determined that lack of sleep can negatively affect judgement, mood, and the ability retain information, as well as increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even premature death.
Through the Internet of Things, researchers can now explore sleep patterns without the usual sleep labs and movement-restricting electrode wires. And with connected devices, individuals can now easily monitor and positively influence their own health.
EarlySense, a startup credited with the creation of continuous patient monitoring solutions focused on early detection of patient deterioration, mid-sleep falls, and pressure ulcers, began with a mission to prevent premature and preventable deaths.
Without constant monitoring, patients with unexpected clinical deterioration may be accidentally neglected, and their conditions can easily escalate into emergency situations.
Motivated by many instances of patients who died from preventable post-elective surgery complications, EarlySense founders created a product that constantly monitors patients when hospital nurses can’t, alerting the main nurse station when a patient leaves his or her bed and could potentially fall, or when a patient’s vital signs drop or rise unexpectedly.
Now EarlySense technology has expanded outside of the hospital realm. The EarlySense wellness sensor, a device connected via the Internet of Things, mobile solutions, and supported by SAP HANA Cloud Platform, monitors all vital signs while a person sleeps. The device is completely wireless and lies subtly underneath one’s mattress. The sensor collects all mechanical vibrations that the patient’s body emits while sleeping, continuously monitoring heart and respiratory rates.
Watch this short video to learn more about how the EarlySense wellness sensor works:
The result is faster diagnoses with better treatments and outcomes. Sleep issues can be identified and addressed; individuals can use the data collected to make adjustments in diet or exercise habits; and those on heavy pain medications can monitor the way their bodies react to the medication. In addition, physicians can use the data collected from the sensor to identify patient health problems before they escalate into an emergency situation.
Connected care is opening the door for a new way to practice health. Through connected care apps that link people with their doctors, fitness trackers that measure daily activity, and sensors like the EarlySense wellness sensor, today’s technology enables people and physicians to work together to prevent sickness and accidents before they occur. Technology is forever changing the way we live, and in turn we are living longer, healthier lives.
To learn how SAP HANA Cloud Platform can affect your business, visit It&Me.
The Digitalist Magazine is your online destination for everything you need to know to lead your enterprise’s digital transformation.
Read the Digitalist Magazine and get the latest insights about the digital economy that you can capitalize on today.
About Christine Donato
Christine Donato is a Senior Integrated Marketing Specialist at SAP. She is an accomplished project manager and leader of multiple marketing and sales enablement campaigns and events, that supported a multi million euro business.
We humans make sense of the world by looking for patterns, filtering them through what we think we already know, and making decisions accordingly. When we talk about handing decisions off to artificial intelligence (AI), we expect it to do the same, only better.
Machine learning does, in fact, have the potential to be a tremendous force for good. Humans are hindered by both their unconscious assumptions and their simple inability to process huge amounts of information. AI, on the other hand, can be taught to filter irrelevancies out of the decision-making process, pluck the most suitable candidates from a haystack of résumés, and guide us based on what it calculates is objectively best rather than simply what we’ve done in the past.
In other words, AI has the potential to help us avoid bias in hiring, operations, customer service, and the broader business and social communities—and doing so makes good business sense. For one thing, even the most unintentional discrimination can cost a company significantly, in both money and brand equity. The mere fact of having to defend against an accusation of bias can linger long after the issue itself is settled.
Beyond managing risk related to legal and regulatory issues, though, there’s a broader argument for tackling bias: in a relentlessly competitive and global economy, no organization can afford to shut itself off from broader input, more varied experiences, a wider range of talent, and larger potential markets.
That said, the algorithms that drive AI don’t reveal pure, objective truth just because they’re mathematical. Humans must tell AI what they consider suitable, teach it which information is relevant, and indicate that the outcomes they consider best—ethically, legally, and, of course, financially—are those that are free from bias, conscious or otherwise. That’s the only way AI can help us create systems that are fair, more productive, and ultimately better for both business and the broader society.
Bias: Bad for Business
When people talk about AI and machine learning, they usually mean algorithms that learn over time as they process large data sets. Organizations that have gathered vast amounts of data can use these algorithms to apply sophisticated mathematical modeling techniques to see if the results can predict future outcomes, such as fluctuations in the price of materials or traffic flows around a port facility. Computers are ideally suited to processing these massive data volumes to reveal patterns and interactions that might help organizations get ahead of their competitors. As we gather more types and sources of data with which to train increasingly complex algorithms, interest in AI will become even more intense.
Using AI for automated decision making is becoming more common, at least for simple tasks, such as recommending additional products at the point of sale based on a customer’s current and past purchases. The hope is that AI will be able to take on the process of making increasingly sophisticated decisions, such as suggesting entirely new markets where a company could be profitable, or finding the most qualified candidates for jobs by helping HR look beyond the expected demographics.
As AI takes on these increasingly complex decisions, it can help reduce bias, conscious or otherwise. By exposing a bias, algorithms allow us to lessen the impact of that bias on our decisions and actions. They enable us to make decisions that reflect objective data instead of untested assumptions; they reveal imbalances; and they alert people to their cognitive blind spots so they can make more accurate, unbiased decisions.
Imagine, for example, a major company that realizes that its past hiring practices were biased against women and that would benefit from having more women in its management pipeline. AI can help the company analyze its past job postings for gender-biased language, which might have discouraged some applicants. Future postings could be more gender neutral, increasing the number of female applicants who get past the initial screenings.
AI can also support people in making less-biased decisions. For example, a company is considering two candidates for an influential management position: one man and one woman. The final hiring decision lies with a hiring manager who, when they learn that the female candidate has a small child at home, assumes that she would prefer a part-time schedule.
That assumption may be well intentioned, but it runs counter to the outcome the company is looking for. An AI could apply corrective pressure by reminding the hiring manager that all qualifications being equal, the female candidate is an objectively good choice who meets the company’s criteria. The hope is that the hiring manager will realize their unfounded assumption and remove it from their decision-making process.
At the same time, by tracking the pattern of hiring decisions this manager makes, the AI could alert them—and other people in HR—that the company still has some remaining hidden biases against female candidates to address.
Look for Where Bias Already Exists
In other words, if we want AI to counter the effects of a biased world, we have to begin by acknowledging that the world is biased. And that starts in a surprisingly low-tech spot: identifying any biases baked into your own organization’s current processes. From there, you can determine how to address those biases and improve outcomes.
There are many scenarios where humans can collaborate with AI to prevent or even reverse bias, says Jason Baldridge, a former associate professor of computational linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin and now co-founder of People Pattern, a startup for predictive demographics using social media analytics. In the highly regulated financial services industry, for example, Baldridge says banks are required to ensure that their algorithmic choices are not based on input variables that correlate with protected demographic variables (like race and gender). The banks also have to prove to regulators that their mathematical models don’t focus on patterns that disfavor specific demographic groups, he says. What’s more, they have to allow outside data scientists to assess their models for code or data that might have a discriminatory effect. As a result, banks are more evenhanded in their lending.
Code Is Only Human
The reason for these checks and balances is clear: the algorithms that drive AI are built by humans, and humans choose the data with which to shape and train the resulting models. Because humans are prone to bias, we have to be careful that we are neither simply confirming existing biases nor introducing new ones when we develop AI models and feed them data.
“From the perspective of a business leader who wants to do the right thing, it’s a design question,” says Cathy O’Neil, whose best-selling book Weapons of Math Destruction was long-listed for the 2016 National Book Award. “You wouldn’t let your company design a car and send it out in the world without knowing whether it’s safe. You have to design it with safety standards in mind,” she says. “By the same token, algorithms have to be designed with fairness and legality in mind, with standards that are understandable to everyone, from the business leader to the people being scored.” (To learn more from O’Neil about transparency in algorithms, read Thinkers in this issue.)
Don’t Do What You’ve Always Done
To eliminate bias, you must first make sure that the data you’re using to train the algorithm is itself free of bias, or, rather, that the algorithm can recognize bias in that data and bring the bias to a human’s attention.
SAP has been working on an initiative that tackles this issue directly by spotting and categorizing gendered terminology in old job postings. Nothing as overt as No women need apply, which everyone knows is discriminatory, but phrases like outspoken and aggressively pursuing opportunities, which are proven to attract male job applicants and repel female applicants, and words like caring and flexible, which do the opposite.
Once humans categorize this language and feed it into an algorithm, the AI can learn to flag words that imply bias and suggest gender-neutral alternatives. Unfortunately, this de-biasing process currently requires too much human intervention to scale easily, but as the amount of available de-biased data grows, this will become far less of a limitation in developing AI for HR.
Similarly, companies should look for specificity in how their algorithms search for new talent. According to O’Neil, there’s no one-size-fits-all definition of the best engineer; there’s only the best engineer for a particular role or project at a particular time. That’s the needle in the haystack that AI is well suited to find.
Look Beyond the Obvious
AI could be invaluable in radically reducing deliberate and unconscious discrimination in the workplace. However, the more data your company analyzes, the more likely it is that you will deal with stereotypes, O’Neil says. If you’re looking for math professors, for example, and you load your hiring algorithm with all the data you can find about math professors, your algorithm may give a lower score to a black female candidate living in Harlem simply because there are fewer black female mathematicians in your data set. But if that candidate has a PhD in math from Cornell, and if you’ve trained your AI to prioritize that criterion, the algorithm will bump her up the list of candidates rather than summarily ruling out a potentially high-value hire on the spurious basis of race and gender.
To further improve the odds that AI will be useful, companies have to go beyond spotting relationships between data and the outcomes they care about. It doesn’t take sophisticated predictive modeling to determine, for example, that women are disproportionately likely to jump off the corporate ladder at the halfway point because they’re struggling with work/life balance.
Many companies find it all too easy to conclude that women simply aren’t qualified for middle management. However, a company committed to smart talent management will instead ask what it is about these positions that makes them incompatible with women’s lives. It will then explore what it can change so that it doesn’t lose talent and institutional knowledge that will cost the company far more to replace than to retain.
That company may even apply a second layer of machine learning that looks at its own suggestions and makes further recommendations: “It looks like you’re trying to do X, so consider doing Y,” where X might be promoting more women, making the workforce more ethnically diverse, or improving retention statistics, and Y is redefining job responsibilities with greater flexibility, hosting recruiting events in communities of color, or redesigning benefits packages based on what similar companies offer.
Context Matters—and Context Changes
Even though AI learns—and maybe because it learns—it can never be considered “set it and forget it” technology. To remain both accurate and relevant, it has to be continually trained to account for changes in the market, your company’s needs, and the data itself.
Sources for language analysis, for example, tend to be biased toward standard American English, so if you’re building models to analyze social media posts or conversational language input, Baldridge says, you have to make a deliberate effort to include and correct for slang and nonstandard dialects. Standard English applies the word sick to someone having health problems, but it’s also a popular slang term for something good or impressive, which could lead to an awkward experience if someone confuses the two meanings, to say the least. Correcting for that, or adding more rules to the algorithm, such as “The word sick appears in proximity to positive emoji,” takes human oversight.
Moving Forward with AI
Today, AI excels at making biased data obvious, but that isn’t the same as eliminating it. It’s up to human beings to pay attention to the existence of bias and enlist AI to help avoid it. That goes beyond simply implementing AI to insisting that it meet benchmarks for positive impact. The business benefits of taking this step are—or soon will be—obvious.
In IDC FutureScapes’ webcast “Worldwide Big Data, Business Analytics, and Cognitive Software 2017 Predictions,” research director David Schubmehl predicted that by 2020 perceived bias and lack of evidentiary transparency in cognitive/AI solutions will create an activist backlash movement, with up to 10% of users backing away from the technology. However, Schubmehl also speculated that consumer and enterprise users of machine learning will be far more likely to trust AI’s recommendations and decisions if they understand how those recommendations and decisions are made. That means knowing what goes into the algorithms, how they arrive at their conclusions, and whether they deliver desired outcomes that are also legally and ethically fair.
Clearly, organizations that can address this concern explicitly will have a competitive advantage, but simply stating their commitment to using AI for good may not be enough. They also may wish to support academic efforts to research AI and bias, such as the annual Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Machine Learning (FATML) workshop, which was held for the third time in November 2016.
O’Neil, who blogs about data science and founded the Lede Program for Data Journalism, an intensive certification program at Columbia University, is going one step further. She is attempting to create an entirely new industry dedicated to auditing and monitoring algorithms to ensure that they not only reveal bias but actively eliminate it. She proposes the formation of groups of data scientists that evaluate supply chains for signs of forced labor, connect children at risk of abuse with resources to support their families, or alert people through a smartphone app when their credit scores are used to evaluate eligibility for something other than a loan.
As we begin to entrust AI with more complex and consequential decisions, organizations may also want to be proactive about ensuring that their algorithms do good—so that their companies can use AI to do well. D!
Travis McDonough has always been looking for a competitive edge. As an amateur athlete “on the small side,” he sought other ways—exercise, nutrition, strategy—to get ahead.
Today McDonough is the of CEO of Kinduct, a provider of cloud-based software that analyzes data from wearables, electronic medical records, computer vision solutions, and more to assess and make recommendations about physical human performance. Kinduct provides 100 professional sports organizations, including the five major sports leagues in North America, with intelligence to make decisions about their athletes and training programs.
Digital Fills a Gap
A chiropractor by training, McDonough owned and operated a network of sports rehabilitation clinics, where he found that patients retained only a fraction of what they were instructed to do through text or conversation. “As we treated athletes, we realized there was a gaping hole in the industry for technology [to fill],” he says.
McDonough first launched a company to create 3D videos designed to help his athlete patients better understand their injuries and the resulting therapy. The videos, delivered by text or e-mail, would illustrate what happens inside the human body when it experiences whiplash, for example.
“We quickly realized we couldn’t just be a content company and push information without understanding more about the athlete,” he says. Athletes and their trainers collected a massive amount of individual health and performance data that was available to be tapped from electronic medical records, wearable devices, and computer vision-based tracking systems that measure and record information such as how fast an athlete is running or jumping. “We needed to be agnostic and aggressive consumers of all kinds of data sources in order to push more targeted programs to our clients,” he says. So McDonough recruited his brother’s brother-in-law (vice president of product, Dave Anderson) to develop software to make sense of it all.
Innovate a Better Athlete
The software is suited for healthcare and military applications: the Canadian Armed Forces uses it to deliver exercise, wellness, and nutrition programs to its troops. But McDonough knew that the world of professional sports would provide his most eager customers.
“The sports world is willing to embrace innovation more quickly than other markets, like healthcare, that are slower-moving. And that’s where our passion lives. Many of us are sports fanatics and have been athletes,” says McDonough of the company’s 70 employees. Kinduct’s first customers were National Hockey League (NHL) teams, followed in short order by the National Basketball Association (NBA).
For its professional sports clients, Kinduct has uncovered more than 100 novel correlations. Most are closely guarded secrets, but several have become public. The company found, for example, that when a basketball player’s sleep falls below a certain threshold, there is a strong correlation with reduced free throw percentages two days later. That discovery led one NBA team (McDonough won’t say which) to focus on getting players to bed on time and making travel schedule changes to enable the requisite rest.
Kinduct software also found correlations for hockey teams. It demonstrated to a leading hockey team that better grip strength was likely to lead to harder and faster shots on goal. Moreover, when the system ingested three years of historical computer vision information, it found that a player’s ability to slow down dramatically affects the chances of soft tissue injuries, which are costly to professional sports teams and athletes. The software can send an alert when it spots a trend that could predict the possibility of such an injury.
We’re in this to go big. That means carrying a burn rate, hiring aggressively, and investing in research.
The software “will never replace the experts in the trenches,” says McDonough. “But we are able to arm coaches and trainers with the intelligence necessary to make more informed decisions. Technology will never replace the power of a good relationship.”
Think a Few Plays Ahead
Kinduct is based in McDonough’s hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, which boasts five universities, strong government subsidies, a low cost of living, and, for Kinducts’s predominantly U.S.-based customers, a favorable currency exchange rate. Despite these advantages, Halifax isn’t widely known for its digital innovators. “We’ve got a huge chip on our shoulder,” says McDonough. “We want to prove that we’re just as capable of becoming a global success as companies elsewhere,” such as Silicon Valley or London.
Nevertheless, McDonough spends significant time in Silicon Valley meeting with investors and looking at potential U.S. expansion (Kinduct closed a US$9 million Series A investment led by Intel Capital in October). “There’s a huge benefit to growing in Nova Scotia,” he says, “but we also need to be in the epicenter of the tech space.”
McDonough has big ideas for Kinduct’s future, thanks to the explosion of health- and fitness-tracking devices. “We can pull all the data in and, when we see a negative pattern, provide the user with the exact roadmap they need to follow to improve their condition or performance,” he says. “That’s equally as useful to a professional football player or an Olympic athlete as it is to someone recovering from a knee replacement or living with type 2 diabetes.”
Kinduct has 16 projects underway to measure the impact of the platform in helping individuals manage conditions like peripheral vascular disease and cognitive decline. “We want to show how the platform can empower and engage patients,” says McDonough.
Go Big or Go Home
Meanwhile, however, McDonough intends “to dominate the sports space. That is our bubble wrap of credibility, and we can leverage that to do other things.”
Focus was never a strong suit for McDonough, who struggled with dyslexia and ADD as a kid. “Thank God for sport, which helped to channel my energy,” he says. But that wandering mind, he says, has also been an asset. “Like a lot of ADD sufferers, I have a lot of imagination,” he says. For balance, he’s hired a leadership team that keeps him grounded, and he has assembled a board of experienced business and technology leaders. “They have the institutional knowledge in how to scale,” he says.
McDonough is blunt: right now, he’d rather be innovative than profitable. “We’re in this to go big. That means carrying a burn rate, hiring aggressively, and investing in research,” he says. “We’re lucky enough to be in locker rooms with these teams and close to some of the best in the business in terms of medicine and training and data science. That’s helping us to produce our future roadmap.” D!