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Oracle and cloud: Success demands a customer-centric culture

Because Oracle is one of the most important players in enterprise software, I asked three top industry analysts to join me on Episode 261 of the CXOTalk series of conversations with innovators. Read on to learn how these analysts view Oracle, its position in the market, and its relationship to customers.

Oracle is a 40-year old company with almost $40 billion in annual revenue. Having survived and prospered over the course of this lengthy period, Oracle has certainly proven its ability to adapt and evolve. The company built its reputation as the world’s premier database, eventually becoming an enterprise applications powerhouse. Today, Oracle is undertaking one of the most important transitions in its history: moving its product lines to the cloud.

As part of an all-out push to the cloud, which has created rapid growth and high margins for that part of the business, Oracle is rewriting its software to be a complete suite of cloud-ready products. This includes enterprise applications such as ERP and CRM, infrastructure-as-a-service in direct competition with Amazon Web Services, and the new Oracle autonomous database.

Becoming more responsive to customer relationships is a key part of this move to the cloud, however, the company’s history has not been all sweetness and light.

Just as cloud computing really began to take off, in 2009, Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, famously dismissed the cloud as “water vapor” (despite his being an early investor in NetSuite). Oracle also became known for using attack dog-style tactics during customer audits. As a result, Oracle’s reputation suffered among some analysts and customers.

Today, two primary factors help explain the renewed focus on customers that seems to be part of Oracle’s cloud strategy.

First, the impact of Mark Hurd as CEO. Hurd is a sales guy, which means he really does care about meeting customer needs. Even back in 2014, during a video interview, I speculated that Mark Hurd might create a “warmer, friendlier, happier Oracle.”

Second, and even more important, the cloud-based subscription business model forces software vendors to create a culture oriented toward customer satisfaction. Unlike the on-premises software model, cloud customers usually pay for usage over time, making customer adoption and retention core imperatives for any cloud company. Successful cloud vendors monitor a variety of metrics to ensure customers are happy with the software and therefore use it to the fullest extent possible.

The great panel for this CXOTalk episode discusses all these issues and much more. The group consists of:

  • Mike Fauscette, Chief Research Officer at G2 Crowd and previously Group Vice President at IDC
  • Liz Herbert, VP and Principal Analyst Serving Application Development & Delivery Professionals, at Forrester Research
  • Neil Ward-Dutton, co-founder and Research Director at MWD Associates, where he covers digital transformation, IT infrastructure, and related topics

You can watch our entire conversation in the video embedded above and see an edited summary below. You should also read the full transcript.

Where does Oracle fit in the technology industry today?

Mike Fauscette: The industry itself has changed quite a bit over the last 20 years. In the 2000s, when we started to see a lot of consolidation, Oracle was one of the companies that led that charge of bringing other application companies in and expanding their application portfolio so that it became quite broad. Then, at some point, they started on this transition path building out solutions that would work in the cloud, all the way from the infrastructure and up the stack, all the way to applications.

For the last several years, they have focused on changing the relationship, changing the way they do business, in this ongoing subscription-based business around almost all the product lines that they sell.

Certainly, they still have a lot of legacy customers who have older applications that are still on-premises still, but the bulk of what they’re selling new now is cloud-based, from the database up through the application layer. It was definitely a company in transition, and they are pretty far down the path now.

Liz Herbert: They’re one of the largest technology suppliers, which sometimes means they’re not the fastest. They don’t necessarily take risks the way that some smaller and more startup-type companies do. For example, it’s well known that Oracle was a bit late to the overall cloud competition that we see looming large in today’s applications market, as well as platforms and infrastructure.

That said, when they invest, they go big. Something notable about Oracle is that, where they jump into a new area of customer demand, they put a significant amount of investment behind it. In fact, there’s something very unique about the company, which we haven’t talked much about yet. Because Larry Ellison owns such a substantial part of the overall company, they’re able to take decisions in a way that many other public companies of their size would not be able to. That’s had a strong influence on where they invest.

Cloud is an area where, though they were a bit late; they’re making significant investments. You can see that in the way they treat their salespeople, in the evolution of roles like customer success, as well as, of course, in the products showing where those investments are heading.

Then, similarly, we all see another wave of technology looming. Digital technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, automation, and Internet of Things. Oracle has been investing in that wave. Again, they weren’t the first, but they’ve certainly got deep pockets, and we see them put a lot of muscle behind that now.

Neil Ward-Dutton: On the platform side, Oracle’s strategy is defensive, but that’s not necessarily bad nor is it surprising. Its position and its strategy are fundamentally about realizing that the center of gravity for new investments, in the near future, is going to be cloud.

It’s all about being there when customers want them to be there, to minimize opportunities for customers to go anywhere else; to make sure they always have something that they can offer customers.

[Although] a defensive strategy, it makes sense when you consider that Oracle has 400,000 or 500,000 customers. It can do very a healthy business by just making sure that it takes its customers on the journey to the cloud and provides the services they need as they take that journey.

Also, Oracle has, for a long time, been pitching to mainstream, slightly conservative buyers. When Oracle talks about 6 Journeys to the Cloud, it’s really saying, “No matter how fast or how slow you want to go, we’ll be there for you, and we’ll hold your hand.” It is a trust and a safety message.

How has Oracle’s reputation among customers evolved?

Liz Herbert: I noticed a big shift this year at the Oracle OpenWorld event, putting that customer success story front and center, which is notable.

The shift to cloud means strategic partnering because, when you buy cloud, you’re not really buying features and functions. You’re buying a long-term partnership, in which you trust the vendor to invest in the features and functions you’re going to need in two years, three years, or four years. That’s a big shift from [on-premises software], when you would buy a large packaged software and use it for the next number of years, maybe doing upgrades here and there.

They’ve done a good job starting to change from a culture that made a lot of money selling software packages, that may cost tens of millions of dollars, to subscription-based or pay-as-you-go pricing, depending on what product you’re talking about. To do that, you need to renew deals, and you’re not going to do that if you’re not a [real] partner. That’s a market shift in their culture and in the types of roles that they’re prioritizing.

Neil Ward-Dutton: Oracle is changing its culture to focus on customer relationships and maintain those close relationships. Unless you have high renewal rates, you’re going to hurt yourself in the long-term.

We see a new wave of technologies enter people’s consciousness in leadership positions around AI, around robotics, around machine learning; all those things. Certainly, when you look at what it’s doing around chatbot-based channels, AI frameworks, machine learning, and even blockchain, it’s not just putting stickers on bits of paper. It’s pursuing these quite seriously and with quite a lot of thought. That’s an encouraging sign.

In the context of the platform business at OpenWorld, Oracle was not holding back. Oracle is pushing to go further than just good enough.I do think there’s a lot to be positive about.

Mike Fauscette: Technology in business [has become] much more of a competitive differentiator, a competitive advantage. Companies can leapfrog the competition by using technology and people in the right combinations.

We mentioned artificial intelligence, IoT, and blockchain. Those technologies are out there, and companies are starting to use them, but they don’t stand by themselves. They’re embedded in the digital infrastructure and platform and fiber of the company as it moves forward.

Having that [platform] is important. Customers may not use it yet, completely. They may not go there all the way yet, but they need to see that Oracle, Salesforce, or the others are a partner that is investing now and will continue to invest and evolve because technology and the use of that technology will evolve.

Digital business is a long journey, and businesses want a partner for that. I heard more this year than ever, from Oracle customers, that Oracle is stepping up to be that technology partner, as a part of the cultural and technical shift through which these customers are going.

Liz, say a few words about suite vs. best-of-breed software?

Liz Herbert: Oracle has made a significant investment towards cloud. Most of the core applications, like ERP, HCM, and CRM, supply chain, and other areas, they are now available in the cloud.

What’s notable about Oracle’s strategy as it relates to the applications moving to the cloud is they are a very comprehensive portfolio. While we might talk about giants in the cloud space, particularly pure plays, Oracle offers a very comprehensive suite available on the cloud.

A lot of the clients that I’m working with prefer fewer providers. Best-of-breed is certainly in fashion right now, but too much best-of-breed is a bad thing. There’s a cost of doing that regarding vendor management, overhead, and not getting great discounts because you’re buying small chunks of software from everybody.

CXOTalk brings together the most world’s top business and government leaders for in-depth conversations on digital disruption, AI, innovation, and related topics. Be sure to watch our many episodes! Disclosure: Oracle is consulting client.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

Data science: Feeding the all-seeing beast

Pervasive data science is becoming a core enabler of business innovation and competition. Given this importance, it’s worth examining the context of data science to consider its trajectory and future value.

In my view, primary challenges around data science for business leaders comes from three sources:

  1. Business people do not always understand the power and implications of what’s possible with data science and machine learning. The impact on business models, operations, and customers can be profound.
  2. Lack of available data to feed the machine learning beast. Without historical or other data, machine learning has little value. Aggregating useful data can be expensive and time-consuming.
  3. Insufficient talent and resources to create models and set up analyses that can best serve users and customers. Making effective use of data science demands a different kind of thought than traditional analytics; even a culture shift, so it’s hard for established organizations to adapt quickly.

On episode 259 of the CXOTalk series of conversations with innovators, I invited two experts to examine these issues and talk about data science in financial services and insurance.

The discussion included an outstanding exposition of the broader business context and value of data science, so we pulled it out as the short, standalone video embedded above.

My two guests for this episode are:

To learn more, check out the short video above and read the edited transcript below. You can also watch the entire episode and read the complete episode transcript over at the CXOTalk site.

Where does data science fit into the insurance industry?

Murli Buluswar: The core challenge for the insurance sector is similar to some of the financial services. In insurance, you’re trying to predict your cost of goods sold at the point of sale. Getting that right is absolutely critical in your ability to achieve margins down the road. Anything and everything that you can do to understand that at its core will give you a significant competitive advantage.

Machine intelligence is the collective experience of an institution manifested through data.

— Murli Buluswar

Now, if you zoom out from that problem statement, there are many similarities in insurance other industries around the role of data science and machine learning in augmenting human intelligence and making better decisions. More structured, granular, sophisticated, consistent decisions, in sales and marketing, as well as in pricing, underwriting, and in claims, which is a significant part of the fulfillment of the promise that insurance carriers make to their customers.

Michael Li: What we call data science today is part of a long history of the application of mathematics and computing to industry.

When I joined the industry, and I started my world in finance at Wall Street, back then we used to call these jobs quant roles. You would figure out how to trade in capital markets, make predictions about which way the stock price would move. I think what we’ve seen is that the tools and the technologies that we used there were then really adopted in Silicon Valley, really turbocharged, frankly made, actually, much more usable. Then the cost of computing made it so that you could apply this not just to a few select problems on Wall Street, but all over Main Street, all over the rest of the financial services industry.

Please elaborate on similarities of data science across insurance and other industries?

Murli Buluswar: The first big dissimilarity, so to speak, when comparing insurance to other sectors is that the role of the actuarial profession dates back to the early days when insurance was created as a sector. Analytics in insurance has largely been driven by the actuarial function, which brings nuanced competencies and capabilities that are relevant to insurance.

If you think about the broader role that data science could play today in insurance, you can fundamentally reshape human judgment when it comes to sales, when it comes to underwriting judgment. Even when it comes to claims through the lens of data and technology in ways that might not have been feasible 10, 12, 15 years ago.

Like many other sectors, in insurance, you’ve got a sales or distribution channel. You’ve got a product channel that is around pricing the product. Some of that is your cost of goods sold, and some of that is trying to understand the market’s appetite and the customers’ demands, or demand elasticity if you will.

Last, but not least, you’ve got the fulfillment of the promise of that very, very data rich. So, if you break down that value chain to its core elements, there are similarities to other sectors.

Now the difference could be that if you think about healthcare, for instance, healthcare is much more a transaction, data-rich industry perhaps compared to insurance. You’re engaging with customers on a very consistent basis, just as you are in financial services, in banking, and credit cards and such. The difference, perhaps, between insurance and these other sectors is you’re not necessarily as data-rich, as transaction-data rich, as other sectors. [However,] certainly getting your cost of goods sold right early on remains critical.

Michael Li: Right, but you see this with retail. You see this through the smartphone, and we were doing a lot of that when I was at Foursquare trying to make that retail brick and mortar experience a bit more digital through your smartphone. You see this all over the place.

I think that that’s going to be a major driver of consumer electronics; you’re going to see the need for companies to have data to drive interactions onto smartphones, tablets, and wearables.

What about the technical aspects?

Murli Buluswar: To build on what you just said, Michael, if you were to contextualize that to insurance, I see the big leap in innovation happening in the next two to three years around this notion of making more granular, real-time decisions with machine learning.

By defining data not just in the traditional internal structured terms, but thinking of it in four quadrants: internal / external on one dimension and structured / unstructured on the other dimension.

The ability to build machine learning algorithms on these platforms will reshape what humans do with decision-making and judgment and where models harmonize or balance human judgment with machine intelligence.

Often, people think of it as an either/or. But if you re-paraphrase machine intelligence as nothing but the collective experience of the institution manifested through data, it brings consistency and granularity to decision-making.

That’s not to say that it obviates the role of human judgment completely, but it is to say that that balance, that harmony should and will look dramatically different two years, three years from now than it has for the last decade and before that.

The next big step-change that I see for this sector as a whole is evolving from a predictor of risk to an actual risk partner that can mitigate outcomes through the power of real-time insights.

The most obvious example of that is the role that sensors can play in providing real-time feedback to drivers of vehicles in a way that hopefully reduces risky driving and mitigates the likelihood of accidents. To me, that is the true power of data science in insurance.

Not only does it mitigate accidents from happening, or adverse events from happening, but reduces the cost of insurance and expands the reach of protection to a much broader population, both in the developed and developing worlds. To me, that’s a beautiful thing if you think about society having a much higher level of financial protection across every aspect of our lives.

Michael Li: Think about what’s new in data science, that is, why is data science different from or how does data science expand upon things like the actuarial tradition, like statisticians, the quants of yore.

We’re no longer just using structured data, so it’s not just SQL queries anymore. It’s now semi-structured and unstructured data. How do you start handling things when they don’t come in nice tables that you can load into Excel or that you can put into SQL?

We are also in a world where data is much larger. You mentioned telematics. If you took a reading from every car every second, that’s a lot of numbers you’ve got to store, and that’s a very different paradigm for computation. You have to think about storing this data. How do you deal with data now that it’s stored across multiple computers? How do you think about computation in that context?

Then, of course, the last thing is real-time data. Analytics has historically been — you might call it — a batch process. Run it once; generate a report; show it to people; you’re done.

Now it’s a continuous process. You run it; you have to instantly find the latest trends; put that into production so you can intelligently adapt; and then do it again the next hour, the next minute. That’s where competition is driving you.

If you look at what Silicon Valley has been doing, it is very much your server is constantly learning from user behavior and adjusts how it interacts with users in a way that — to borrow an expression — delights the user. I think that we see that.

Traditional companies, non-tech-based companies, have to emulate that kind of level of customer service and satisfaction. A lot of that comes down to big data and having a team capable of understanding new and different kinds of data in a world that’s rapidly evolving.

Murli Buluswar: If you think about the historical definition of transactional data in healthcare and banking, we know that that’s been at the core of how they think about analytics. Traditionally, insurance has not had that version.

If you zoom out and define data in a much broader sense that includes images, audio, all sorts of unstructured data: insurance then has its own version, layered on top with IoT and such. Insurance has its own version of transactional data. The ability to harness that and dramatically change the cycle time of decision-making, as well as the granularity of decision-making, is where the goldmine is for insurance in the coming five years or so.

Share your advice on building a data science culture?

Michael Li: Two basic, first steps. First, get the data, collect it, [and] store it, what have you. Second, find the talent that’s necessary to deal with the data, manipulate the data, and come up with actionable insights from that data. If you can do both of those things, you will at least take the first few steps in the direction of building a data-driven culture.

CXOTalk brings together the world’s top business leaders for in-depth conversations on AI and innovation. Thumbnail image Creative Commons from FreeVector. com.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

IT heroes: Use customer service to build business relationships

IT heroes Use customer service to build business relationships

Image from iStockphoto

The importance of building bridges between IT and business stakeholders is obvious, but getting there is hard.

In his book, Driving Digital, veteran CIO Isaac Sacolick describes the need to build these relationships from the bottom up:

The solutions and transformational practices that I helped implement across these organizations had more similarities than differences. They were all developed “bottom up,” that is, they were all implemented with tactical practices first, transformational practices second, and cultural changes ongoing. I started the practices in IT first, extended to business teams second, and then drove business change and strategic transformation later.

The not-so-subtle message is that decreeing relationship change simply does not work. Of course, senior leaders must set broad objectives, but goals alone do not create results. Making pronouncements is easy, but actually driving deep cooperation across departments is more difficult.

The need to change is part of a broader shift inside IT, striving to say “yes” in response to user requests rather than the traditional “default to no” mentality.

During a recent conference, I spoke with several IT managers — these are not CIOs – who are using customer service as the model for defining relationships between business stakeholders and IT. FinancialForce invited me to their Community Live 2017 event in Las Vegas to record these conversations as part of the CXOTalk series of conversations with innovators.

The first conversation I want to highlight explored innovation and project management with IT leaders from Medidata Solutions, a life sciences technology provider that offers a cloud-based solution for managing clinical trials and drug research.

I held the second discussion with Microstrategy, a well-known business intelligence software company.

Medidata Solutions: Project management and innovation

The conversation with Medidata brought together Michael Shullich, Senior Director, and Naimisha Kollu, Senior Information Systems Project Manager, both of whom work in the Business Innovation Office.

Watch our entire conversation in the following video and read edited comments below. You can see the whole transcript as well.

Tell us about Medidata Solutions

Michael Shulich: Medidata was founded in 1999. We went public in 2009. We were born in the cloud. We’re a software company. Our specialty is in the vertical of software and life sciences. So, our customers are pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, basically what our customers are doing are running clinical trials to create breakthrough drugs to help patients. We create the architecture that they run their trials on, and we accelerate that.

Why is the innovation organization part of IT?

Michael Shulich: I sit in the technology stack, and the technology stack makes up a lot of our company. As a cultural attribute, we’re looking to transform our industry. We invest 25% of our revenue back into R&D. We’re long-term-focused, so what we’re doing for the clients in terms of transforming the industry, I try to do internally. So, behind professional services, our legal people, our HR people, making sure they have the best tools, systems, processes; so they can execute their mission.

We create new products, we change the way clinical trials are done. That’s baked into our technology. We’re not looking to just enable. We’re looking to transform. We’re very passionate about what we do. We are helping create new drugs, new treatments… Our mission is to power smarter treatments and healthier people. You can’t do that by doing what you used to do. And you can’t do it being incremental. So, we have kind of the external focus what we do with our clients. That’s my job, for internal focus, is to help Metadata run better.

Naimisha Kollu: We empower our users. The change doesn’t come from outside. It has to come from within the organization. So that’s what we do. We bridge the gap between the organizational departments. We bring technology and the processes together to make that transformation.

How does this view influence project management?

Naimisha Kollu: As Mike is coming from a technology stack, I’m coming from a PMO stack. We both are hand-in-hand organizations that go in parallel. And again, we are from the same business innovation office, just two different streams of lines.

As a member of the project management office, my responsibility is not just project management. We are not typical project managers which you see in any organization. We don’t just facilitate the meetings. We don’t just manage the projects. What we do and what we bring to the table is our experience with these applications. What we bring to the table is our experience with our business processes that go within the organization.

If a professional services department wants to implement a tool, we know which tool to bring into the architecture because we have experience with our other applications within our infrastructure; and we will be able to guide them in the right way, which is going to be a better fit culturally and also from our architecture standpoint. So, as a project manager, we bring and bridge the gap between the departments, between the teams, between the technologies, and the processes.

Michael Shulich: She is a subject matter expert. She can go toe-to-toe. To get a transformation, you have to know what the current state is, and you have to have a vision what the future state is. And she is excellent at being able to kind of map out the way it is today to the future. And, by doing that too, I think you get the respect of your internal customers. Because let’s be honest, change is frightening, right? Especially if you got all these things going on, and change kind of has to be managed in a process.

How do handle implementation and adoption?

Naimisha Kollu: Our responsibility doesn’t end just with implementation. We don’t dust our hands after implementation and just vanish. Our responsibility also includes adoption. We won’t be successful without our users adopting the technology; adopting the process. So, we incorporate that adoption as well into our responsibility and we don’t leave them. They trust us because they know we won’t leave them until they are comfortable.

Adoption requires an incremental approach and we cater to different types of audiences. Ours is a global organization which has spread across different regions, geographies. We have an internal team called “Merit Academy,” which is targeted towards training our external customers on our products, but they also actually help us to train our internal users on the products that we use internally.

We use different methods to support adoption. We do live webinars; we do lunch and learns; we do quick short videos; we do roadshows for adoption. We have question and answer sessions.

Microstrategy: Building a services-focused IT organization

I also spoke with Farnaz Bengali, Vice President of Enterprise Applications at MicroStrategy. Watch our entire conversation in the following video and read her edited comments below. You can see the whole transcript as well.

Watch our entire conversation in the following video and see her edited comments below. You can also read the whole transcript of my conversation with her.

Tell us about MicroStrategy and your role?

Farnaz Bengali: MicroStrategy is an enterprise software company, and we are the best BI tool out there. We’re the original BI tool.

I work under the CIO’s office, and I manage all of our software applications. I am a part of IT, but funny enough, I have no IT background. I came up from an accounting and consulting background, and they really wanted somebody for this job that could help them modernize their applications, which is my role. I help optimize the business processes for everybody, every other department in the company.

For example, Marketing says, “Hey, we can’t get leads out to our internal reps fast enough. Can you implement X tool.” I’ll think through and help them say, “Okay, before I implement the new, shiny tool that you’ve heard about or watched a YouTube video on, walk me through what is your leads process? What tools do we use today? Which people are involved? What is the process?” And, then I will help them tailor a solution.

It may be a new tool. It may be optimizing something we have currently. Or, it may just be a business process change. Do we really need a new software application? Or, is it something we can just tweak in something current, or a business process?

How do you think about the service aspect of IT?

Farnaz Bengali: I’m trying to make IT a services organization. We should treat [IT customers] as if they were external paying customers.

Without that customer service hat on, most of us wouldn’t be employed.

What are the challenges and opportunities in rethinking IT from a service perspective?

Farnaz Bengali: Making sure the business understands the value and the proposition we bring to the table. I’ve ensured that I have the right IT people in the organization. I have also hired a marketing person, somebody who’s got a finance hat on, somebody who’s got an accounting hat on, a sales hat; we’re bringing that expertise to the table from a decision-making perspective.

It’s been very successful and we’re not just back-end people implementing systems anymore.

If you were to hold a product conference, like the one we’re at right now, you would bring sales and marketing into the table. You’d try to think about what customers you want there, who you’re marketing to, all those things. I’m also trying to bring IT to that table; the internal IT department. You may be looking at three different venues. We can help you understand which of your venues will accommodate the people that you need from a wireless and infrastructure perspective. We can also think through what kind of support you’ll need at the conference so we can bring that expertise to the table. IT will help focus the decision because now, you’ve got more facts.

What is your final advice?

Farnaz Bengali: Hire the right skill sets. Ensure that you’re able to scale properly; don’t do too much, too fast. And, focus on the process.

CXOTalk brings you the world’s most innovative business leaders, authors, and analysts for in-depth discussion unavailable anywhere else. Thank you to FinancialForce for supporting CXOTalk.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

Equifax : Disturbing Developments

Credit-rating company Equifax’s data breach, which involves an estimated 143 million people, may not be the largest that we have seen, after all Yahoo lost billions of emails in a series of data breaches, most of them brought out to the public much later. Given the nature of data at play here, this is clearly becoming the most deadly of all data breaches – like tropical storm IRMA. The feared IRMA is on its way to touch Florida(pray for the safety of all living in Florida), but the Equifax data breach storm has the potential to affect large set of Americans to become the worst ever data breach. The sensitivity and the direct information access makes the big difference between the two. Yahoo email’s could have exposed some back account information or some personal information and the hacker must be scanning so wide to find relevance that can be good enough for him/her to benefit from, An occasional back account, credit card information might have been exposed. The odds are stacked against given the volume of information to sift and find the useful ones. But Equifax is a different ball game altogether. Equifax is one of the three biggest credit-reporting companies in the U.S. and incidentally the breach is reported to have occurred occurred mid-May through July 2017,even though the public got to know about this on Sep 7, 2017

According to Equifax, the information that were accessed includes: Names Social Security numbers Birth dates Addresses In some instances, driver’s license numbers. In addition, credit card numbers for north of 200,000 U.S. consumers Certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for north of 180,000 U.S. consumers Come to think of it, this is precisely the information US residents share with a bank to get credit cards, get certain types of jobs, or get a mortgage. This is important information, and a seem to have affected a wide number of Americans. The class-action lawsuits are already being filed less than 24 hours after the information became public.

Equifax’ s response so far has been so pathetic and uncaring, to say the least.

To start with, Equifax did not share news of the breach for several weeks, since it began investigating this breach. Second, three top executives sold stocks between the time Equifax knew about this and the time they shared the news with Public. Public sources reveal chief financial officer John Gamble sold $946,374 worth of stock, president of U.S. information solutions Joseph Loughran sold $584,099 worth of stock, and Rodolfo Ploder, president of workforce solutions, sold $250,458. It may be the case that these gentlemen were not aware when they sold, (looks difficult to believe though, as the CFO and the IT head were not aware of data breach of this magnitude happening but as key executives inside Equifax they could not find out what the matter was!)but clearly Equifax is defensive based on popular perception on this ground. Equifax has since set up a web page with information and a way to enroll in “complimentary identity theft protection and credit file monitoring services and how to find out if your personal information may have been impacted.” The site requires you to enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number, and Equifax won’t tell you right away if you’ve been impacted but the site promises to let you know when you can enroll in the company’s “TrustedID Premier” program” and tells you to “mark your calendar” to check back. And some security experts were concerned about the basic setup of the site and that even there, new set of data breaches can happen. Many trade sources complained that “Customer service agents contacted by phone on the emergency telephone line said they couldn’t provide further clarity on the matter.” And the people fielding those calls, were telling callers that that they don’t have access to the database of those affected. What next to do

The options in front of the affected person is indeed very limited. There’s the standard advice after a data breach: Change passwords if you reuse the same one , turn on two-factor authentication when possible, and watch for any suspicious links or emails from Equifax or others. Some suggested freezing the credit score, so that external players cannot access such information till this is waived. You can also turn to the other big two credit-reporting agencies in the U.S., Experian and TransUnion, and make sure there haven’t been any recent inquiries made into your credit history. Equifax is giving away a free year of credit monitoring and identity-theft insurance, which everyone is highly encouraged to take advantage of. For those who are already a victim of identity theft, are encouraged to visit the FTC Identity Theft Recovery website and follow the steps therein. The Federal Trade Commission will provide the victim with a specific identity theft report and “to-do” recovery plans

On an ongoing basis, ensure that one spends the time keeping a closer eye on credit-card statements – the newly issued cards may be more exposed. Don’t leave any financial statement archive without your express approval. .At the end of it, it is clear that a tremendous amount of data is now floating out there with someone not authorized to hold them – either in the hands of criminals or a nation-state. Your Social Security number will never change, your past addresses will always be your past addresses. The effects of the Equifax breach will be felt for years to come. Beware of phishing mails which are clickbaits to draw one into rogue schemes and keep your machines remain state of the art and all patches applied. One of the things I find disturbing about this data breach is that there is essentially nothing any of us could have done to protect ourselves. We’re told to have strong passwords, avoid risk sites and apps and use security software but that only protects our devices, not data stored by others. And, in the case of Equifax and other credit reporting bureaus, it’s not as if we’ve even chosen to do business with these companies. They collect and store sensitive data about us whether we like it or not and I’m even sure if there is a way to opt-out.Increasingly, companies are supposed to safeguard this information, but they’re subject to hacks, human error and even deliberate breaches from within. Medicare even puts recipients social security number on their card, which they usually care in their wallet so if their wallet is stolen, their identify is at risk. Medicare plans to change this next year, but in the meantime millions of people over 62 are vulnerable. We need to figure out a way to disempower the use of the social security number to steal our identities. I’m not sure how that can be done, but I’m pretty sure it’s doable.

Some hacker is reportedly trying to take advantage of this development. I also demand a national center of cyber breaks and all enterprises should have an annual checkup of their enterprises and would act as the clearinghouse for providing national relief. Hope America comes out of this unscathed.

(Cross-posted @ Sadagopan’s weblog on Emerging Technologies,Thoughts, Ideas,Trends and The Flat World)

AI on the high seas: Royal Caribbean sets a course for “frictionless and immersive” vacations

Royal Caribbean, the world’s second largest cruise line, operates in 47 different countries with over 50 ships, each of which is a floating city transporting and entertaining between 2,500 to 7,000 guests at a time. Running a cruise line at this scale presents massive logistical challenges.

I caught up with Royal Caribbean’s Chief Information Officer Mike Giresi at the Digital Workforce Summit, held in New York City by software company IPsoft. The event’s theme was using AI and cognitive learning to automate and improve customer service — thus the idea of digital workforce.

This video is part of the CXOTalk series of conversations with the world’s top innovators. You can watch it embedded above and see the complete transcript on the CXOTalk video page.

Royal Caribbean is undertaking a large digital transformation initiative to rethink the guest experience. According to CIO Giresi, Royal Caribbean’s goal is providing guests with a personalized experience that is also easy to understand. In his words, to create a “frictionless and immersive vacation experience for our guests:”

Our intent is to make it as simple as possible for you to understand the product, to be able to select what the product represents to you and experience the product once you’re on the actual, physical ship.

Customer value comes first. Digital transformation starts with the question, “What do our customers want?” In the case of Royal Caribbean, there are two crucial points.

First, the company wants to help customers visualize and understand, at a visceral, emotional level, the positive life experience of being on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Because customers have different goals, communicating this message meaningfully is hard. For example, one cruise shopper may want a peaceful getaway on the sea while another desires hot nightlife: Two buyers, each seeking their own unique experience.

Second, Royal Caribbean believes its primary job is making the cruise experience fast, easy, and fun. Mike spoke about creating “frictionless and immersive vacations.” To do this, the company uses technology to make life simple and engaging for guests.

The term frictionless also implies operational efficiency. Consider the practical challenges associated with boarding and un-boarding thousands of passengers quickly and without incident from a cruise liner. Or, the difficulty in offering computing and data services while in the middle of an ocean, thousands of miles from land. Customer experience demands that Royal Caribbean solve these issues every single day.

The foundation issue is rethinking the entire cruise experience by answering the question, “What do customers care about most?”

Technology enables customer experience. Having set priorities based on what matters to customers, the business can use technology to enable outcomes that customers desire.

Giresi explains:

Technology provides the entire guest experience. We’re modernizing our technology to enable the guest to have much more control and direct selection of what they want to do with the product itself; moving from reservation being the center of our universe, to the guest being the center of our universe, and then building capability services integration points.

[We are] enabling technology to move with the guests versus the guests having to traverse different monolithic and antiquated systems and ultimately feel like nothing is purposely put together.

With customer experience as the reference point, determining priorities for making technology investment decisions becomes easier. Defining customer priorities as the reference also aligns IT activities with business strategy, which obviously is of huge value to the company.

=====

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

What are your customer goals?

The more we can do with the product, enabling both guest and customer experiences, if you will, but doing so in a way that broadens the ship. Like, how do we expand the vacation experience beyond the ship, so that you’re not constrained by the physical limitations of the ship? That’s the design around the technology strategy.

We want people to feel like coming to a cruise is not an overwhelming or intimidating experience. We want people to feel confident that as soon as they get on the ship, their vacation begins. In fact, we’d love their vacation to begin before they arrive. Once you enter the port to walk onto the ship, we want it to be as seamless as humanly possible. We want you to enjoy it, feel relaxed, be excited; you have your itinerary, you have your agenda if you will; you know all the things you’re going to do. If you learn of new things, how easy is it to change that, and can swiftly and agilely adapt to whatever is available to you, to maximize that experience.

Can you give us an example?

So, using augmented reality, or virtual reality, to bring experiences onto the ship that you would not be able to see; where you would not be able to experience because the ship has physical limitations, so people can understand what’s happening with the ship, doing interesting things with social. Enabling people to self-select opportunities to go on excursions that may not have been available to them in personalizing that information, so they can get to the things that are of most interest to them.

We believe we are in the business of making tremendous memories. The better we can provide that information to you, the more successful we’re going to be in providing the product.

When are rolling out this technology?

We’re in early days. We’ve gone through a lot of the heavy lifting from a foundational capability perspective.

When you think about a ship, you have a bunch of people, obviously guests on the ship, but there’s a lot of crew on the ship, and there are a lot of supply chain processes. What it takes to run one of these floating cities is no different than what it takes to run a city. You’re just running it at sea.

Each time that ship comes into a port, each time it does something, there’s an opportunity to change and/or impact the experience. So, how do we make sure we maximize our processes and people in support of this program so that people feel like it’s something of value?

What are you doing with AI?

We are looking at two aspects of AI. One is our actual workforce. How we can offer better information, and help them ensure that they are making every guest interaction — whether in our call center or our crew interacting with our guests — that those interactions are high quality and driving a great experience.

We believe there’s an opportunity to provide guests with more personalized information, with more options that are relevant to their interests, and the more authentic it feels to someone, people will be friendlier to it and feel less intimidated by the overall process.

AI enables us to quickly move those issues to the point of solution much faster and proactively resolve issues before they become issues.

When we turn a ship, it’s much like a plane. It’s just a lot more complicate. Our ability to disembark people off that ship, invite the new guests onto the ship, and do that in a successful and high-quality manner, is critical to the success of the journey.

Where we’re looking at AI, it is around the consumer experience. When you come to a cruise site, the amount of data that’s available to you is voluminous, I mean, there’s so much information.

If we know a little bit about you, and we understand what you’re interested in, we can deliver that information in a much more personalized manner, to call center, crew.

How do we get better information to people so they can service the guests and help guests maximize their interaction with the business?

Obviously, we think we can help convert and acquire people more effectively by understanding behavioral trends and historical activities.

And, for our crew, it’s about giving them the right information when they most need it to provide the right level of service to our guests.

CXOTalk brings you the world’s most innovative business leaders, authors, and analysts for in-depth discussion unavailable anywhere else. Thank you to IPsoft for being a CXOTalk underwriter.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

Time to Drop LastPass? The Most Irresponsible, Idiotic Post Ever!

<rant>

I have not blogged for a while, but I feel my blood is boiling at such an irresponsible call by MakeUseOf, a site I used to respect:

It’s Time to Drop LastPass: How to Migrate to a Better Password Manager

As a long-time LastPass user, my first reaction was panic: yet another breach?  But no such thing.  This article simply goes on providing step-by-step instructions  on how to switch from LastPass to  1PasswordDashlane, or KeePass, should you so wish.  But why?  Who knows.  I can’t find any reference to a new LastPass breach, bug, or any issue not already known/remedied a long time ago.

But why?  Who knows.  I can’t find any reference to a new LastPass breach, bug, or any issue not already known/remedied a long time ago.   What I do know is that the safety, integrity of the central password manager is critical for all of us, and moving to another provider is …well, kind of a Big Deal.

Which is why such crap calls are utterly irresponsible.  I lost all respect for MakeUseOf.

</rant>  (and I am feeling better now)

🙂