Survival of the Fittest

This post was also featured on the CRMAsia blog.

The headlines keep spewing out paranoia:

AI is taking over hundreds of jobs!
Uber and Ola have all but replaced traditional cabs!!
The hospitality industry objects to predatory pricing by Oyo!!!

So, what does all this mean for corporates, marketers and industry professionals like you and me? Should we become paranoid too? Should we be doing something else instead? Is it already too late?

Here are some interesting statistics compiled by HostingFacts:

  • There are 4.1 billion Internet users in the world (Dec 2018)
  • China has the most Internet users for any country (~802 million or ~20 percent of total), trailed by India (~500 million)
  • Amazon is responsible for more than 49 percent of all online sales and about 5 percent of all retail sales in the U.S.
  • There are 3.7 billion global mobile Internet users (Jan 2018)
  • About 75 percent of ecommerce sales in China are done via mobile devices
  • Mobile traffic is responsible for 52.2 percent of Internet traffic in 2018

The combination of super-cheap data plans (as in Jio) and super-cheap smartphones (as in Android + China) is already making a dent in India. With a plethora of payment platforms (PayTM, RuPay, etc.) that enable everything from micro-payments and P2P money transfers to mutual funds and ticket booking, Indians are also embracing newer ways of dealing with money. And, we are only at the nascent stage of this ‘perfect storm’, as it were.

Whichever way you look at it, the Indian consumer is doing more on their mobile phones today than ever before. Even without the local language content that millions of them want and need. Even without high-speed internet access in their semi-urban and rural towns. Even if it means that their first exposure to the world wide web (remember WWW?!) is on a 2-inch device in their pocket.

So, if you think “going digital” means creating a website and posting some brochureware content on it that gets updated every quarter, you’ve got another thing coming. If you already have a web presence but it doesn’t render elegantly on a mobile screen, you have a lot of catching up to do. If you’re a marketer who thinks all this “AI” stuff is for the geeks in your IT department (or even for your ‘Digital’ team), you may need to learn some harsh truths real soon. And, if you think your business is all offline, so you can continue to manage it the way you have been doing for decades – may be you do need some paranoia in your life.

Voice, Video and Vernacular (content) are going to be the success drivers of tomorrow. Add Velocity to the mix, and you will have a potent combination of forces at play. The environment is certainly ripe for disruption. The only question is will you be making it happen, watching in wonder as it happens, or wonder what happened?!

This post was also featured on the CRMAsia blog.

Beginner’s Guide to Smart Devices

Everyone and their cousin seems to be talking about Smart Homes, lately. TV ads are filled with mentions of “OK Google” and “Alexa…”, banner ads want to make us buy Smart Wearable devices & Smart Lights, while contests like #GetFitWithFlipkart are trying to make us go outdoors and get more active.

But, is it all hype? Is India ready for the #SmartHomeRevolution?  And, do you need be a techie to try out some of these new technologies?

As a matter of fact, what earlier used to involve technical know-how has now reached the Consumer market. India boasts of the second-largest Internet user base in the world (after China). And a large majority of us are experiencing the Internet mostly through our smartphones. The bottom line is that if you have a smartphone and access to WiFi in your home, many of the “Smart Home” devices are already within your reach.

Here are a few examples you can get started with:

1. Smart Speakers

Google Home and Amazon Echo offer multiple devices (with varying sound quality) that enable you to do a variety of tasks by simply “talking” to your speaker! They easily connect to your home WiFi, and have built-in capabilities for Internet Search and streaming music (including Indian services like Saavn). Adding reminders or checking appointments from your linked calendars is also a breeze. You can also connect multiple devices from different rooms for a seamless experience.

Benefit: Fill your house with Music + Search at the tip of your tongue.

2. Smart Cameras

There are hundreds of models of WiFi-enabled cameras available online, that can be easily configured to work with your home WiFi network without breaking the bank. Also called IP-cams, most offer a mobile app that can be used to access the live feed from any of the linked cameras. They typically have a micro-SD memory card slot (just like your smartphone) to store recordings from their feed. Higher-end models also enable you to “talkback” from a remote location, and have “night vision” to see better in dim light conditions. So, choose the model that best suits your needs.

Benefit: Easily monitor your children/maid/aged-folks from outside your home.

3. Smart Watches

This is a category that has a huge range of devices in all shapes, sizes and costs. Basic ones offer a “pedometer” that counts the steps you take to keep track of your activity level through the day. Advanced features include “inactivity alerts” (that remind you to get on your feet every X minutes), “sleep mode” (that tracks the quality and quantity of your sleep) and “heart rate” (that tracks your heart rate when evoked). Most come with companion apps for smartphones that can be used to store past data and access more detailed analytics of your behavior. The key here is battery life, since models range from those that need charging daily to those that need charging just once a year. So, choose wisely. I should also mention that some of the inexpensive models are highly inaccurate when it comes to the basic task of counting steps. So, do read reviews before you buy one.

Benefit: Know how active (or inactive) you are, and take steps to improve.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of “smart” devices that just need a smartphone and a WiFi connection to deliver their smarts. So, don’t be afraid to take the plunge and give it a try.

Who knows? Your’s may just turn out to be the “smartest” home in your neighborhood!

Connections

A friend proudly posted on an online forum that he was able to fit in multiple activities in his life (including running a startup!), thanks to no cable TV, no YouTube, no tea breaks, no FB and no What’s App groups. His argument was that we all have a finite amount of time, and hence, need to ‘make time’ for what matters by giving up something else.

I agree with that last part, and have lived with that belief for as long as I can remember. Defining your priorities, and making time for them, is the only way this works. I’d also recommend improving efficiencies to get more return on investment for the time you do spend on your chosen pursuits. But I also fear that my friend, like many others, is missing out on a vital part of life.

There is a case to be made for widening your horizons and interacting with perspectives that are not like your own.

Most of today’s online technologies are designed to give you more of what you’ve already liked, or interacted with. But, it helps to push yourself out of your comfort zone and understand Life from the eyes of those who don’t think like you. And, that’s where ‘mass media’ can help.

The way things like newspapers and TV work is that someone else decides what constitutes “good content” for the large majority of us. That may not coincide with what we would like, or agree with, but that can be a good thing… at times.

Today, more than ever, we need to embrace diversity of thought in all spheres, from politics to society to technology. We need to seek out views that are significantly different from our own, whether through a thought-provoking Netflix documentary (on a subject we may know little of), or a feature in the local daily that proposes a view contrary to our own (closely-held) beliefs.

That’s how new connections will form. That’s how we will someday go past our predispositions. That’s how we will eventually stop judging or fearing those that do not resemble us, and truly begin to understand each other.

There are 7 billion of us, and every one has a unique world view, shaped by diverse, multi-cultural experiences. Let’s not allow easy access to the Internet to dumb it all down.

Engaging Smarter with AI

Last month, in suburban London, a delivery of a parcel was attempted by Amazon Prime.

The homeowner was out on a school run, but had a video doorbell from Nest Hello (Google) installed in the home. An Apple iPhone X received a live feed from the doorbell, and a 2–way chat soon transpired. It turned out that the homeowner’s Tesla was parked right outside, and was accessed via the Tesla app – thanks to its permanent cloud connectivity. The boot was remotely opened by the homeowner, who could see it live on the video stream. The delivery guy was able to leave the package inside, after which the car was remotely locked via the app, resulting in a successful delivery.

What is noteworthy about this story is that it involved four distinct services – Amazon, Google (Nest), Apple and Tesla – all of which were digital, but none were specifically designed to work together.

Yet, in many ways, we are probably in the first hour of the evolution of AI (think before the Internet happened).

Futurists like Kevin Kelly (Founding Editor of Wired) speak of a rapid “cognification” of the machines around us, giving them the ability to harness superhuman powers – minus the (human) distractions. But, they also augur that the most popular AI product that will be in use 20 years from now, hasn’t even been invented yet!

What is (or isn’t) AI?

The Merriam-Webster defines Artificial Intelligence as: “The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.”

We humans possess a number of cognitive abilities that help us learn new concepts, apply logic & reason, recognize patterns, comprehend ideas, solve problems, make decisions, and use language to communicate. We call this intelligence.

This “intelligence” enables us humans to think, to be self-aware, to experience Life.

And, human intelligence is not just linear and one-dimensional.

Howard Gardner in his ‘Theory of Multiple Intelligences’ argued that there were a wide range of different abilities operating in the human mind. – ones that did not necessarily correlate with each other.

Gardner proposed that these distinct types of intelligences – including logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, musical and interpersonal – are what enabled people to become a plumber, farmer, physicist or teacher.

Modern machine capabilities typically classified as “AI” include successfully understanding human speech (as in voice-recognition), competing at the highest level in strategic game systems (such as Chess), and intelligent routing (as in Content Delivery networks or Military simulations).

But the scope of AI is disputed: As machines become increasingly capable, tasks considered as requiring “intelligence” are often removed from the definition, a phenomenon known as the AI effect. As a result, routine technologies like Optical Character Recognition (OCR) are frequently excluded from the definition.

In fact, we tend to think of AI as whatever hasn’t been done yet!

The fact is, AI is not just embedded inside Netflix algorithms or voice controlled ‘smart assistants’, it’s embedded in our lives.

The decades-old autopilot systems that fly our commercial airplanes is just one example of that. The humble “calculator” is already smarter than most of us in arithmetic, and the GPS chip in our phones is already better at spatial navigation than the average human – both being examples of machines exhibiting intelligence.

Growing significance of AI

Clearly, AI is relevant to any task requiring intelligence.

High-profile examples of AI include autonomous vehicles (such as drones and self-driving cars), powering search engines (such as Google), and improving spam filtering or targeted advertisements.

In Medicine, AI is being applied to numerous high-cost problems, with initial findings suggesting that AI could save as much as $16 Billion. In 2016, a ground breaking study in California found that a mathematical formula, developed with the help of AI, correctly determined the accurate dose of immunosuppressant drugs to give to organ patients.

In Financial Services too, there are several use cases for AI. Banks use artificial intelligence systems to organize operations, maintain book-keeping, and invest in stocks. AI-based tools help read documents, process cheque payments and respond to customer requests. AI has also reduced fraud and financial crimes by monitoring behavioural patterns of users for any anomalies.

Today, AI can even analyze “silence patterns” on Customer Service calls to infer insights from excessive hold-times about system delays, outdated CRMs, etc.

Engaging smarter with AI

However, in our quest for providing more bells and whistles, we may sometimes lose sight of what truly matters. We need to connect the dots… across devices, channels and teams. We need to listen to our customers, our distributors, our employees. We need to move from proposition to purpose.

Does Customers + AI have to equal chatbots?! Or can we use AI-based tools to actually improve outcomes for our customers?

Here are just a few examples where intelligent use of AI can help improve Customer Experience, regardless of the underlying business:

  • Design more relevant products and services for your customers by listening to your customers and putting those insights to work
  • Continue conversation threads in CRM systems, regardless of their initial entry point, so you can provide contextual help
  • Predict a lapse or termination, and intervene with appropriate measures, before you lose the customer

Technologists argue that in the not-so-distant future, if a task needs to be done efficiently, it will most likely be done by robots (as in AI with bodies), while humans will focus on activities that are typically inefficient – think exploration, innovation, science and art.

Ultimately, our ability to deal with what comes next will depend on our willingness to embrace a co-existence with machines and their intelligence. Only then will they become our partners, not just tools.

This post first appeared on YourStory.

How To Demotivate Employees

I have had the pleasure of working for organizations of nearly all size and shape, ranging from solo ventures to 3-member teams to a few hundred employees, and all the way up to 30,000+ soldiers marching to a common tune.

Since my work has revolved around Services, the one thing that has been common to these stints is People. And, having seen a wide variety of industries and functions, I’ve had a ring-side view of how organizations motivate – and demotivate – their most important resource.

Here are some of the ways I’ve encountered in my journey, that result in employees being demotivated…

  • Not providing clarity on what constitutes “success”
  • Waiting for the annual appraisal cycles to provide much-needed feedback and course-correction to team members
  • Playing favorites within the team, or hiring old favorites from your past employment, with little regard for competence
  • Not creating a strong Reward & Recognition program to encourage performance achievement
  • Hiring outsiders at senior levels (and at commensurate pay hikes), at the cost of ignoring equally-competent loyal employees
  • Offices offering no transportation options / no cafetarias (especially relevant for large enterprises and those having poor access)
  • Managers promoting unqualified resources for positions that require technical competence, without including the necessary checks and balances (this one is especially demotivating for those who are competent!)

Needless to add, any one who is reading this and cares about doing it right, should do the exact opposite.

If you are an entrepreneur, build your organization the right way, and don’t compromise by hiving off “people management” to some trainee or junior resource. If you are a mid-level manager, watch out for such danger signals in your own enterprise, and try to compensate for what you see around you. If you are in a position of leadership, you can take measures to undo the damage this causes to your staff.

Remember, no matter how long you’ve traveled in the wrong direction, you can always take a u-turn.