Oct
01
2020
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Microsoft enhances customer data platform as pandemic drives need for personalization

When Microsoft introduced its customer data platform last February, the focus was on simply connecting silos of data to help customers get the data into the system. But as the pandemic has taken hold this year, customers need deeper insight into their customers, and Microsoft has made some enhancements to the platform today.

James Phillips, president of Microsoft Business Applications Group, says the goal of the platform is about understanding customers at a deeper level. “From that depth of understanding our customers can engage their customers through the entirety of the customer lifecycle,” Phillips told TechCrunch.

That could involve a variety of activities, such as personalizing offers, speaking to them in a way that they know their customers want to be spoken to, offering them new products and services that better meet their needs or supporting them better, he said.

He adds that COVID-19 has changed customer priorities and forced them to make adjustments to the way they do business and how they interact with customers. “As everything’s gone digital, the need to deeply understand your customer and to increase the efficacy of those engagements has really been heightened through this pandemic,” he said.

The company is announcing several new components to the customer data platform product to help customers build that understanding. The first is called Engagement Insights, which, as the name implies takes, all that data they’ve pushed to the CDP to help understand how the company is engaging with the customer better and deliver more meaningful interactions. That goes into preview today.

“Engagement Insights is about directly funneling web, mobile and connected product data back into Customer Insights to help continue to enrich that understanding of the customer in order to better serve them,” he said.

The next piece is about putting AI to work on all that data to allow marketers to make more educated predictions about the customers based on what they know about them. This takes advantage of Azure Synapse Analytics and provides a set of pre-built AI templates to help customers with elements like predicting customer churn, automating product recommendations and estimating customer lifetime value.

In addition, the company is offering a data governance product to help protect that data, and it’s integrating with Microsoft Customer Voice, the company’s survey tool to give customers the ability to fill in the blanks in the data by asking the customers when all of the data doesn’t provide an answer.

Phillips says all of these capabilities are about helping customers be more agile, so that as the world shifts, as it has so dramatically this year, businesses can be in a better position to react to those changes more quickly and meet the changing customer requirements.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft clearly isn’t alone in this type of offering, as every big company that sells marketing tools from Adobe to Salesforce to SAP is offering similar products for similar reasons.

Oct
01
2020
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SAP continues to build out customer experience business with Emarsys acquisition

SAP seemed to be all in on customer experience when it acquired Qualtrics for $8 billion in 2018. It continued on that journey today when it announced it was acquiring Austrian cloud marketing company Emarsys for an undisclosed amount of money.

Emarsys, which raised over $55 million according to PitchBook data, gives SAP customer personalization technology. If you spoke to any marketing automation vendor over the last several years, the focus has been on using a variety of data and touch points to understand the customer better, and deliver more meaningful online experiences.

With the pandemic closing or limiting access to brick and mortar stores, personalization has taken a new urgency as customers are increasingly shopping online and companies need to meet them where they are.

With Emarsys, the company is getting an omnichannel marketing solution that they say is designed to deliver messages to customers wherever they are, including e-mail, mobile, social, SMS and the web, and deliver that at scale.

When SAP announced it was spinning out Qualtrics a couple of months ago, just 20 months after buying it, it left some question about whether SAP was fully committed to the customer experience business.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that the acquisition shows that SAP is still very much in the game. “This illustrates that SAP is serious about CX and competing in a highly competitive space. Emarsys adds industry-specific customer engagement capabilities that should help SAP CX customers accelerate their efforts to provide their customers with the experiences they expect as their needs change over time,” Leary told TechCrunch.

As an ERP company at its core, SAP has traditionally focused on back-office kinds of operations. But Bob Stutz, president, SAP Customer Experience, sees this acquisition as a way to continue bringing back-office and front-office operations together.

“With Emarsys technology, SAP Customer Experience solutions can link commerce signals with the back office and activate the preferred channel of the customer with a relevant and consistently personalized message, allowing customers the freedom to choose their own engagement,” Stutz said in a statement.

The company, which is based in Austria, was founded back in 2000, when marketing was a very different world. It has built a customer base of 1,500 companies with 800 employees in 13 offices across the globe. All of this will become part of SAP, of course, and come under Stutz’s purview.

As with all transactions of this type it will be subject to regulatory approval, but the deal is expected to close this quarter.

May
13
2020
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Startups are transforming global trade in the COVID-19 era

Global trade watchers breathed a sigh of relief on January 15, 2020.

After two years of threats, tariffs and tweets, there was finally a truce in the trade war between the U.S. and China. The agreement signed by President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office didn’t resolve all trade tensions and maintained most of the $360 billion in tariffs the administration had put on Chinese goods. But for the first time in months, it looked like manufacturers, importers and shippers could start to put two difficult years behind them.

Then came COVID-19, at first a local disruption in Wuhan, China. Then it spread throughout Hubei province, causing havoc in a concentric circle that eventually engulfed the rest of China, where industrial production fell by more than 13.5% in the first two months of the year. When the virus spread everywhere, chaos ensued: Factories shuttered. Borders closed. Supply chains crumbled.

“It has had a cascading effect through the entire world’s economy,” says Anja Manuel, co-founder and managing partner of Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley.

The crisis has caused a drastic contraction in global trade; the World Trade Organization estimates trade volumes will fall 13-20% in 2020. And spinning activity back up could be tricky: Even as China starts to get back online, the slowdown there could reduce worldwide exports by $50 billion this year. When factories do reopen, there’s no guarantee whether they will have parts available or empty warehouses, says Manuel, who also serves on the advisory board of Flexport, a shipping logistics startup. “Our supply chains are so tightly-knit and so just-in-time that throw a few wrenches in it like we’ve just done, and it’s going to be really hard to stand it back up again. The idea that we go back to normal the moment we lift restrictions is unlikely, fanciful, even.”

Getting to that new normal, though, is a job that a number of logistics startups are embracing. Already on the rise, companies like Flexport, Haven and Factiv see a global trade crisis as a setback, but also an opportunity to demonstrate the value of their digital platforms in a very much analog industry.

May
04
2020
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IBM and Red Hat expand their telco, edge and AI enterprise offerings

At its Think Digital conference, IBM and Red Hat today announced a number of new services that all center around 5G edge and AI. The fact that the company is focusing on these two areas doesn’t come as a surprise, given that both edge and AI are two of the fastest-growing businesses in enterprise computing. Virtually every telecom company is now looking at how to best capitalize on the upcoming 5G rollouts, and most forward-looking enterprises are trying to figure out how to best plan around this for their own needs.

As IBM’s recently minted president Jim Whitehurst told me ahead of today’s announcement, he believes that IBM (in combination with Red Hat) is able to offer enterprises a very differentiated service because, unlike the large hyper clouds, IBM isn’t interested in locking these companies into a homogeneous cloud.

“Where IBM is competitively differentiated, is around how we think about helping clients on a journey to what we call hybrid cloud,” said Whitehurst, who hasn’t done a lot of media interviews since he took the new role, which still includes managing Red Hat. “Honestly, everybody has hybrid clouds. I wish we had a more differentiated term. One of the things that’s different is how we’re talking about how you think about an application portfolio that, by necessity, you’re going to have in multiple ways. If you’re a large enterprise, you probably have a mainframe running a set of transactional workloads that probably are going to stay there for a long time because there’s not a great alternative. And there’s going to be a set of applications you’re going to want to run in a distributed environment that need to access that data — all the way out to you running a factory floor and you want to make sure that the paint sprayer doesn’t have any defects while it’s painting a door.”

BARCELONA, CATALONIA, SPAIN – 2019/02/25: The IBM logo is seen during MWC 2019. (Photo by Paco Freire/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

He argues that IBM, at its core, is all about helping enterprises think about how to best run their workloads software, hardware and services perspective. “Public clouds are phenomenal, but they are exposing a set of services in a homogeneous way to enterprises,” he noted, while he argues that IBM is trying to weave all of these different pieces together.

Later in our discussion, he argued that the large public clouds essentially force enterprises to fit their workloads to those clouds’ service. “The public clouds do extraordinary things and they’re great partners of ours, but their primary business is creating these homogeneous services, at massive volumes, and saying ‘if your workloads fit into this, we can run it better, faster, cheaper etc.’ And they have obviously expanded out. They’ve added services. They are not saying we can put a box on-premise, but you’re still fitting into their model.”

On the news side, IBM is launching new services to automate business planning, budgeting and forecasting, for example, as well as new AI-driven tools for building and running automation apps that can handle routine tasks either autonomously or with the help of a human counterpart. The company is also launching new tools for call-center automation.

The most important AI announcement is surely Watson AIOps, though, which is meant to help enterprises detect, diagnose and respond to IT anomalies in order to reduce the effects of incidents and outages for a company.

On the telco side, IBM is launching new tools like the Edge Application Manager, for example, to make it easier to enable AI, analytics and IoT workloads on the edge, powered by IBM’s open-source Open Horizon edge computing project. The company is also launching a new Telco Network Cloud manager built on top of Red Hat OpenShift and the ability to also leverage the Red Hat OpenStack Platform (which remains to be an important platform for telcos and represents a growing business for IBM/Red Hat). In addition, IBM is launching a new dedicated IBM Services team for edge computing and telco cloud to help these customers build out their 5G and edge-enabled solutions.

Telcos are also betting big on a lot of different open-source technologies that often form the core of their 5G and edge deployments. Red Hat was already a major player in this space, but the acquisition has only accelerated this, Whitehurst argued. “Since the acquisition […] telcos have a lot more confidence in IBM’s capabilities to serve them long term and be able to serve them in mission-critical context. But importantly, IBM also has the capability to actually make it real now.”

A lot of the new telco edge and hybrid cloud deployments, he also noted, are built on Red Hat technologies but built by IBM, and neither IBM nor Red Hat could have really brought these to fruition in the same way. Red Hat never had the size, breadth and skills to pull off some of these projects, Whitehurst argued.

Whitehurst also argued that part of the Red Hat DNA that he’s bringing to the table now is helping IBM to think more in terms of ecosystems. “The DNA that I think matters a lot that Red Hat brings to the table with IBM — and I think IBM is adopting and we’re running with it — is the importance of ecosystems,” he said. “All of Red Hat’s software is open source. And so really, what you’re bringing to the table is ecosystems.”

It’s maybe no surprise then that the telco initiatives are backed by partners like Cisco, Dell Technologies, Juniper, Intel, Nvidia, Samsung, Packet, Equinix, Hazelcast, Sysdig, Turbonomics, Portworx, Humio, Indra Minsait, EuroTech, Arrow, ADLINK, Acromove, Geniatech, SmartCone, CloudHedge, Altiostar, Metaswitch, F5 Networks and ADVA.

In many ways, Red Hat pioneered the open-source business model and Whitehurst argued that having Red Hat as part of the IBM family means it’s now easier for the company to make the decision to invest even more in open source. “As we accelerate into this hybrid cloud world, we’re going to do our best to leverage open-source technologies to make them real,” he added.

Mar
03
2020
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Honeywell says it will soon launch the world’s most powerful quantum computer

“The best-kept secret in quantum computing.” That’s what Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) CEO Ilyas Khan called Honeywell‘s efforts in building the world’s most powerful quantum computer. In a race where most of the major players are vying for attention, Honeywell has quietly worked on its efforts for the last few years (and under strict NDA’s, it seems). But today, the company announced a major breakthrough that it claims will allow it to launch the world’s most powerful quantum computer within the next three months.

In addition, Honeywell also today announced that it has made strategic investments in CQC and Zapata Computing, both of which focus on the software side of quantum computing. The company has also partnered with JPMorgan Chase to develop quantum algorithms using Honeywell’s quantum computer. The company also recently announced a partnership with Microsoft.

Honeywell has long built the kind of complex control systems that power many of the world’s largest industrial sites. It’s that kind of experience that has now allowed it to build an advanced ion trap that is at the core of its efforts.

This ion trap, the company claims in a paper that accompanies today’s announcement, has allowed the team to achieve decoherence times that are significantly longer than those of its competitors.

“It starts really with the heritage that Honeywell had to work from,” Tony Uttley, the president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions, told me. “And we, because of our businesses within aerospace and defense and our business in oil and gas — with solutions that have to do with the integration of complex control systems because of our chemicals and materials businesses — we had all of the underlying pieces for quantum computing, which are just fabulously different from classical computing. You need to have ultra-high vacuum system capabilities. You need to have cryogenic capabilities. You need to have precision control. You need to have lasers and photonic capabilities. You have to have magnetic and vibrational stability capabilities. And for us, we had our own foundry and so we are able to literally design our architecture from the trap up.”

The result of this is a quantum computer that promises to achieve a quantum Volume of 64. Quantum Volume (QV), it’s worth mentioning, is a metric that takes into account both the number of qubits in a system as well as decoherence times. IBM and others have championed this metric as a way to, at least for now, compare the power of various quantum computers.

So far, IBM’s own machines have achieved QV 32, which would make Honeywell’s machine significantly more powerful.

Khan, whose company provides software tools for quantum computing and was one of the first to work with Honeywell on this project, also noted that the focus on the ion trap is giving Honeywell a bit of an advantage. “I think that the choice of the ion trap approach by Honeywell is a reflection of a very deliberate focus on the quality of qubit rather than the number of qubits, which I think is fairly sophisticated,” he said. “Until recently, the headline was always growth, the number of qubits running.”

The Honeywell team noted that many of its current customers are also likely users of its quantum solutions. These customers, after all, are working on exactly the kind of problems in chemistry or material science that quantum computing, at least in its earliest forms, is uniquely suited for.

Currently, Honeywell has about 100 scientists, engineers and developers dedicated to its quantum project.

Apr
17
2019
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Google Cloud brings on 27-year SAP veteran as it doubles down on enterprise adoption

Thomas Kurian, the newly minted CEO of Google Cloud, used the company’s Cloud Next conference last week to lay out his vision for the future of Google’s cloud computing platform. That vision involves, in part, a hiring spree to give businesses that want to work with Google more people to talk to and get help from. Unsurprisingly, Kurian is also looking to put his stamp on the executive team, too, and today announced that former SAP executive Robert Enslin is joining Google Cloud as its new president of Global Customer Operations.

Enslin’s hire is another clear signal that Kurian is focused on enterprise customers. Enslin, after all, is a veteran of the enterprise business, with 27 years at SAP, where he served on the company’s executive board until he announced his resignation from the company earlier this month. After leading various parts of SAP, including as president of its cloud product portfolio, president of SAP North America and CEO of SAP Japan, Enslin announced that he had “a few more aspirations to fulfill.” Those aspirations, we now know, include helping Google Cloud expand its lineup of enterprise customers.

“Rob brings great international experience to his role having worked in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States—this global perspective will be invaluable as we expand Google Cloud into established industries and growth markets around the world,” Kurian writes in today’s announcement.

For the last two years, Google Cloud already had a president of Global Customer Operations, though, in the form of Paul-Henri Ferrand, a former Dell exec who was brought on by Google Cloud’s former CEO Diane Greene . Kurian says that Ferrand “has decided to take on a new challenge within Google.”

Jan
19
2017
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Yext hires new president as it looks to IPO

attending the Yext Launch Party at 1 Madison Ave., NY on Oct 1, 2015 Photo By: (Ken Arcara/Guest of a Guest) Yext, the company that helps businesses make sure that their location data appears correctly in search results, is announcing that Jim Steele will be joining the company full-time as president and chief revenue officer. Steele was previously on the board at Yext and was most recently at InsideSales. “I found a new younger Mark Benioff and I’m really excited,” Steele says… Read More

Jan
29
2015
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Huddle Co-Founder Alastair Mitchell Steps Down As CEO, Morten Brogger Steps In

cloud On the heels of a $51 million round of funding, cloud collaboration company Huddle today announced a changing of the guard to lead the company to its next stage. Co-founder Alastair Mitchell is stepping down from his role as CEO and assuming a new position as president and CMO. Taking his place is Morten Brogger, a veteran exec whose past roles included CEO of Mach, which he helped sell… Read More

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