Accenture Technology Labs Blog
Bold thinking, commentary and application of new technologies that address many of the key business challenges facing organizations today.
The recent expansion of 3D printing has compelled companies across many industries to change the way they think about manufacturing. Advances in 3D printing have allowed the creation of more complex designs with less overhead and enterprise companies are taking notice. Several companies are already embracing this technology and are moving towards using 3D printing to manufacture end-use products in an effort to reduce costs and development time. For example, defense company BAE Systems successfully flew a Tornado fighter jet fitted with metal 3D printed components. BAE anticipates 3D printing technology “could cut the Royal Air Force’s maintenance and service bill by over [$1.96] million over the next four years1.” General Electric has also announced production of 3D printed metal nozzles for their oil and gas division in 2014, foreseeing production of end-use parts by 20152.
With so many 3D printers on the market, determining the most appropriate 3D printing solution for a company can become overbearing. Which printer is the most cost effective? Can a printer deliver products with similar or improved structural integrity? Which fleet of printers will provide the most diverse set of printable materials? These are the driving questions that many companies look to have answered before taking the plunge into ever-expanding universe of 3D printing.
Accenture’s Technology Labs has developed a tool integral in answering these tough questions. Our Printability Index dashboard provides clients with all the pertinent information to make an informed decision on whether 3D printing is a viable option for their company and, if so, which printers are the most practical. The index works by allowing the user to compare a list of parts that are candidates for 3D printing. This list includes detailed attributes of each part, including material composition, dimensions, and engineering requirements. Behind the scenes, a printability analysis is performed by cross-referencing a catalog of printers and printable materials against the user-provided list.
Figure 1: Printability Index Overview Page
|The results of the printability analysis are displayed through an interactive dashboard. The overview page displays an analytical view of the client’s parts list, including information on the proportion of printable to non-printable parts as well as a breakdown of the material composition of the parts list. A secondary view offers a deeper part analysis, a multitude of filters to sift through parts, and graphical representations of the data. This detailed view also provides the capability to review each part in order to see a part’s attributes, the potential business impact due to part failure, and whether or not a part is printable. For printable parts, additional materials which meet or exceed the part’s engineering requirements are provided. This is important information for users who are concerned about maintaining a part’s structural integrity while consolidating printer options. Between these two pages, a user can easily understand if 3D printing fits the needs of their business.|
|The Printability Index is only the first component of Accenture’s 3D printing service offering. By understanding the printability of the client’s portfolio, Accenture can perform a thorough and informed business assessment to determine the most appropriate printer solution to match a client’s needs. With this service, clients can move away from cumbersome manufacturing processes to a more adaptive, customizable process driven by 3D printing. With 3D printers, it is not a stretch to imagine the ease at which a worker can submit a request for a replacement part to be printed and have that part manufactured onsite within a matter of hours. The insights provided by the Printability Index have the capability of disrupting the traditional supply chain by reducing the dependency on suppliers and warehousing real estate.
Figure 2: Printability Index Details Page
Brian M. Landry, Diana Munoz, Serena Cheng
Part 3: Digital Closet, Innovating in Shopping
In this final post, we explore how our strategy provides value for customers and benefits retailers. We describe how interactions evolve beyond connecting channels to connecting to the lives of customers. We begin by identifying a common apparel customer activity: daily wardrobe decisions. These decisions range from coordinating items, to determining the need for new items. In the following scenario, we present a “digital closet” concept that is comprised of a set of multi-channel services apparel companies. Each company can help customers with wardrobe decisions and management. With a digital closet, the retailer can then place its products in the context of wardrobe decisions when the need first appears.
Sarah Smith is an executive at a large company and juggles her work and family duties. She is a mother of three and is constantly on the go. Sarah considers herself an impatient shopper. For Sarah, time is money and does not want to waste time hanging at a store or online browsing. Her top priorities are discovering new items and managing the overcrowding of her closet by identifying items that can be donated.
Sarah loves shopping at Clothing Inc. (a fictitious business) because they are always there when she needs them. On her way to the office, she runs into a co-worker wearing a stylish coat that she loves. Sarah takes a photo of the coat with her Clothing Inc. app. Immediately, the app pulls up the coat and adds it to her shopping cart as well as to her “Must Haves” board on Pinterest where she shares her passion for the brand. Having little time to shop, she uses the “Complete the Look” feature to discover options to coordinate with the coat. An alert goes out to her Clothing Inc. stylist as well as to her friends requesting ideas.
After a demanding day at work, Sarah takes out her tablet at home and opens the Clothing Inc. app to access her digital closet. A new lookbook is populated with options by her Clothing Inc. stylist, a close friend and the recommendation engine. Clothing Inc.’s clothes contain sensors, a summary of how other people are wearing the coat is provided. A number of friends have voted on the looks and left comments for Sarah too. Each look pulls together a mixture of items Sarah owns along with suggested new purchases. She likes all of the recommendations and decides to go with the look that received the most votes, but swaps out the shoes included with this look for a pair on her “Must Haves” list that go well. Once completed, she clicks “Get the Look” and the items she does not own are added to her shopping cart. She confirms her payment information, and her order is processed for pick up in the store (a preference of Sarah’s). Her new purchases are included in her digital closet for future interactions. After completing her purchase, Sarah is alerted that a number of items in her closet have reached the two-year expiration date she set previously. The embedded sensors in all of Clothing Inc.’s items provide Sarah with a look at how much she has worn other items in her closet. Sarah can see those that have not yet hit the expiration date. She agrees it is time for those items to go, in addition to, a few others she no longer wears. Sarah collects these items and places them at the door to take to the local shelter. As a reward, Clothing Inc. gives her bonus loyalty points. The next time she visits her digital closet there are recommendations to replace some of the clothes she donated and the cycle begins again…
In this scenario, the promise of the Internet of Things provides new services to customers that enable better management of purchases, and crowdsourced ideas. The scenario also shows how connecting around products (in this instance using a lookbook) can drive purchasing. In addition, the use of context (e.g., products already purchased) helps generate options and recommendations that maximize the use of the customer’s wardrobe. Retailers gain increased visibility, provide support to their customers’ everyday lives and can quickly build brand advocates. The customer is responsive to the interactions because they fit seamlessly with their lifestyle and daily activities, together with enhancing their experiences. The retailer now has multiple occasions to address the customer’s needs with a product. As the retailer becomes more a part of the customer’s life, their value to the customer is increased and can provide greater opportunity to measure ROI down to the customer level. The overall data captured through interactions between items, customers and with the customer herself creates a wealth of information to personalize customer experiences and powerful new ways to invest marketing dollars.
Part 1: Designing the Lifestyle Experience
Part 2: Becoming a Part of the Customer’s Life
Jianhua Zhang, Qin Zhou
In the last year and a half, Accenture Technology Lab’s smart grid team has been working with researchers from Zhejiang University on innovative micro-grid, multi-energy optimal scheduling solutions.
Micro-grid is a small scale energy supply system that is self-controlled, protected and managed. From the bulk power grid’s view, a micro-grid can be regarded as a controllable load or schedulable generation unit. There have been micro-grid pilot projects around the world. But most of these projects run in an island operation mode in remote or isolated environments, such as military bases, islands and rural areas that lack a connection to the bulk power grid. In our view, the full micro-grid business benefit cannot be realized unless there are solutions that a micro-grid can provide, including multi-energy services for an urban load center and the ability to run in a grid-connected operation mode.
Through collaborative R&D work, Accenture Technology Labs and Zhejiang University have developed an innovative solution to maximize the benefits provided by a micro-grid. This study focuses on the application of a micro-grid on urban load centers to meet customers’ multi-energy demands locally. Examples include providing electricity and cooling energy to high-technology parks, commercial buildings and residential areas.
The micro-grid solution we have developed can supply both cooling and electrical energy. It includes several typical micro-grid components: wind power, photovoltaic (PV), a combined cooling/heating and power (CCHP) unit, an ice storage air-conditioner, and an energy storage device.
As renewable energy resources, wind power and PV provide unstable electrical power. A CCHP unit provides cooling energy and electrical energy. An ice storage air-conditioner consumes electricity in the valley hours by making ice; in the peak hours, it releases the cooling energy stored in the ice tank to meet customers’ cooling energy demands. (Note: CCHPs and ice-storage air conditioners work together in a coupled process due to their working modes.) Finally, a storage device stores the electricity when the micro-grid has redundant energy or when there is power available from the main grid during valley hours. It is mainly used for smoothing the output changes of the renewable energy output and the load variations in the real-time dispatching.
The objective of the micro-grid study is to meet customers’ multi-energy demands by finding the optimal energy schedules for each micro-grid component while achieving the minimum total operation cost. Through the R&D collaboration, we built a multi-energy scheduling optimization model and developed an integrated scheduling algorithm based on a multi-time scale. It includes two parts: day-ahead scheduling and a real-time dispatching algorithm. This approach can help a micro-grid system operator achieve an optimal scheduling plan and operation strategy.
This R&D collaboration has produced a patent filed to the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a paper submitted to IEEE Power and Energy Society (PES) transaction, and a prototype of micro-grid, multi-energy optimization scheduling being demonstrated to Accenture’s clients.
Accenture Technology Labs is continuing the R&D collaboration with Zhejiang University in the micro-grid area, with a current focus on developing an optimal micro-grid planning solution that targets planning how a micro-grid supplies the multi-type energy demands by utilizing wind power, solar power, CCHPs, ice-storage air-conditioners and energy storage devices.
Brian M. Landry, Diana Munoz, Serena Cheng
Part 2: Becoming a Part of the Customer’s Life
Brian M. Landry, Diana Munoz, Serena Cheng
In part one of this series, we introduced a new engagement strategy to help retailers extend their reach into the lives of customers by seamlessly weaving relevant services and content into their everyday experiences. In exchange for a more valuable offering, customers will not only purchase, but also become loyal advocates of the retailer and brand. Here we explore the four steps retailers must take to design a lifestyle experience.
Step 1: Understand Your Customer’s Life
The customer’s life is comprised of a range of behaviors and activities that retailers can leverage as points for engagement. From inevitable events like growing up to proactive decisions such as changing careers, customer activities vary from the simple and routine occurrences like a morning run to occasional and momentous ones like having kids. In either case, the retailer has an opportunity to engage with the customer in these moments in a meaningful way. For example, a sports apparel company might want to keep track of their customer’s morning runs to better determine their future apparel needs. The key is to understand which customer behaviors and activities are relevant to the brand and to develop value-added services to support those.
Identify Relevant Services
To engage customers, retailers should provide services that unlock value for the customer in three focus areas: product discovery, social connections and time-based services. Product discovery tools should enable the customer to conveniently explore and experiment with new products. Retailers should help customers connect to a range of sources for advice (e.g., other customers, experts, enthusiasts, etc.). Time based services should track periodic and cyclical behaviors to forecast needs (e.g., track miles run with the same shoes to determine wear and tear) and enable easy acquisition of needed products. In all, services should support the customer’s activity in context while being unobtrusive.
Design Experiences that Support
With a relevant service selected, the retailer must then leverage technology and interaction design to enable the service within the context of a customer’s need. Customers are performing activities with your products, and the service should seamlessly integrate with them. To continue with our running example, retailers such as Nike have developed apps help customers keep track of runs and fitness goals. By providing this new support and integration, the retailer adds a new value proposition for the customers by proactively solving problems and enabling enhanced product experiences. This makes the brand stickier and encourages customer loyalty and advocacy.
Close the Loop
Finally, the retailer will benefit from a financial perspective when it enables the customer to instantly acquire a product that addresses a need, when that need arises. Once the retailer has identified an intent or opportunity to purchase, they can enable the customer to act upon the offering and purchase an item. For example, based on running patterns the app detects the user is a novice runner and provides instructions to determine the wear and tear of shoes and offers available options for new shoes when necessary. Not only does it provide added value but also makes it easier to measure conversion and ROI.
By taking a more proactive approach to engagement, the focus shifts from investing in campaigns to regain the customer’s attention to a sustained conversation between the customer and retailer. As a result, your brand will coexist with the customer and add value at any moment that is meaningful for the customer. The next wave will focus on enabling the decision process. Seamless interactions should evolve beyond connecting channels to connecting to lives of customers. In our final installment of this series, we will explore a detailed example of how this strategy can be applied in the fashion industry.
Part 1: Designing the Lifestyle Experience
Part 3: Digital Closet, Innovating in Shopping
Brian M. Landry, Diana Munoz, Serena Cheng
Part 1: Your Customers are Engaged. But Is It with You?
In today’s retail world, customers have armed themselves with a variety of technologies to get the most out of their shopping experiences. From searching for deals and the best price, to seeking recommendations and inspiration, customers (from millennials to baby boomers) are expecting more from their retail experience, and technology makes it easy to switch companies to get it.
Loyalty programs are supposed to combat switching, or at least reduce it. But many aren’t working. Why? While loyalty programs help with customer engagement and retention, they focus on driving future purchases rather than meaningfully engaging the customer between purchases. An engaged customer is a repeat customer. The next wave of innovation in customer experience should focus on creating deeper connections with customers even post-purchase. There is no question that existing customers are important. But ask yourself – are your customer engagement strategies moving beyond the transactional relationship and fitting into the life (i.e., behavior, activities, decisions) of the customer, enriching it in some way? In this 3-part blog series, we will explore a new approach for engaging customers outside of the purchase funnel or post-purchase. We will discuss the use of cutting edge technologies to engage customers by addressing their needs in the context of the company brand and product selection.
Current State of Engagement Strategy
Traditionally, the marketing organization has led the charge in attracting the customer and increasing awareness of the brand, products and promotions. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools aid in connecting with and tracking customer behavior, and businesses are increasingly using social media to draw in customers through dialog, campaigns and ads. However, social media may enable businesses to better target customers, but they really only scratch the surface of what is possible.
Currently, most strategies typically address the customer outside of the context of a need and rely on the memory of the customer. Then, the customer must be persuaded to associate the business with a future need (e.g., a new pair of shoes), remember the business when that need arises, and remember why that business should be chosen over the competition based on the brand’s impression. In essence, many engagement strategies focus on driving transactions and fail to embed the brand into the customer’s life through services that support the customer’s lifestyle.
There is a new, more effective way. In the future, engagement strategies will use more real-time and advanced intelligence to engage a customer by supporting the activities they engage in with your products. For example, Nike provides customers with tools to track exercise and track progress toward fitness goals. By doing so, it positions itself as the brand that can fit your lifestyle and future goal, and puts them at the forefront to sell to the customer at the point of need.
Current Customer Behavior
Outside of channels, customers are communicating about your products, their experiences while using your products and interacting with your brand, exploring new purchase opportunities, making recommendations to friends and the list goes on. But are you aware of all of this activity – aware enough to act upon it? Many start-ups are already disrupting this space and addressing unmet needs of your customers; these companies provide services in a few different categories: inspiration/showcasing, recommendation, personal shopping, product management tools.
Inspiration and Showcasing: Between purchases customers often seek inspiration for new purchases. Companies like Pinterest have emerged as a channel for viewing, collecting and organizing images that serve as inspiration for new purchases and showcase personal style. Today’s customers are using this platform to collect and share ideas for new outfits, recipes, furniture and more. Ultimately, the boards become artistically designed compilations of customer preferences and product usage. According to Pinterest, when businesses (like Sephora) join the site, they have experienced up to a 13% increase in traffic to their site. Also, Pinterest users buy 15% more than Facebook fans. Companies like Polyvore, Lily and Violet, and Asos are all addressing a crucial behavior that starts the customer on the purchase journey.
Recommendation/Advice Seeking: Online recommendation services such as StyleSeek and StyleUp help customers more quickly discover new styles and items that fit their unique needs and identity. The customer is placed in a segment based on responses to a questionnaire or focus group, and then provided a set of choices. Providing feedback to the system helps it improve and adapt instantaneously. Every recommendation is linked to the site where the customer can complete the purchase. This type of personalized service provides a means for discovering new products, ideas for how the product fits into the customer’s lifestyle, and an avenue for purchasing.
Personal Shopping: We are witnessing growth in digital personal shopping services in which customers specify the products they wish to purchase, and a third party does the shopping and delivers to the customer’s home. Companies like Full Circle take care of the grocery browsing and shopping for users at an affordable price. After setting preferences, the customer receives periodic deliveries of fruits and vegetables at home. The company decides what produce to deliver based on location and season. The user no longer needs to decide what to buy. As a result, a once high-end service is now available to the masses and shopping behaviors are shifting. In this case the grocery shopping experience becomes more seamless and the relationship with the company then becomes more valuable. Other services like Farm Box, Instacart, and Good Eggs are innovating in the personal shopping space.
Product Management/Use: After purchasing a product, customers often seek continued support and advice about how to use the product in their daily activities. In the financial sector, we see the emergence of companies like Mint and Simple that help banking customers with financial management. For example, Mint provides customers the ability to track their finances from one place. The user can set up budgets and financial goals, track progress online and receive advice on how to reach goals more quickly. By creating awareness and providing personalized advice, Mint helps the user adapt their behavior to match their goals.
The customer behaviors above represent opportunities for retailers to connect more deeply with their customers, and some companies have been successful in addressing those needs and are reaping the benefits relationally and financially. Many of these services occur outside the traditional retailer channels. Although these companies provide services that drive customer engagement and traffic, they provide no physical products. On the other hand, retailers that sell the products have much more information about customers and are much better positioned to support customer needs and convert those efforts into sales. While companies like Polyvore are building loyalty with their users, retailers have an opportunity to build loyalty around products as well as the brand.
We believe the pinnacle of engagement occurs when the business becomes a part of the customer’s life and lifestyle. Businesses should not only sell products, but also provide services that 1) enhance the customers’ experience with your products, and 2) connect the customers to new purchase opportunities. In Part 2 of this series, we will explore a new engagement strategy that takes advantage of many of customer behaviors discussed here and technologies that can extend the retailer’s reach by seamlessly weaving the brand and products into the everyday lives of their customers. This approach meets customers’ needs, takes into account their context such as previous purchases, preferences and interests, and enables customers to bring other opinions into the decision making process.
Part 2: Becoming a Part of the Customer’s Life
Part 3: Digital Closet, Innovating in Shopping
Security company Prolexic reports that in the third quarter of 2013, its clients experienced a 58 percent increase in the total number of DDoS attacks compared to the year-earlier quarter. Cyber threats are not just about gaining access to systems. In the case of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, it’s also about shutting down or disabling services—or at least causing enough secondary discomfort to damage a company’s brand.
In an always-on world, business leaders have to expect and accommodate for the risks posed by internal and external disruptions. This notion is so critical that it serves as the foundation for a chapter included in the latest edition of the Accenture Technology Vision, titled “Architecting Resilience.”
The economic risks associated with business discontinuities can grow incredibly high, incredibly fast. This is especially true for digital companies that rely on Internet-based business models. Take Google’s five minute outage in mid-August 2013 as an example; it’s reported to have cost the company $545,000 in revenue. Not all outages are so costly; a 2013 Ponemon Institute study found the average cost of data center downtime across industries is approximately $7,000 per minute in losses. The cost of disruption varies by industry and the scale of the compromised infrastructure.
But it should come as no surprise that service downtime equates to a loss of revenue. The question is how to prepare and protect your infrastructure? Leading companies’ technology chiefs understand something that IT leaders everywhere must grasp: failure is a normal operating condition. It must be anticipated, accommodated and designed into IT systems.
Just look at Netflix. Netflix loves to fail. Not by delivering movies late or overbilling customers, but instead its engineers try to find fault with their own IT systems. Teams at Netflix are deploying automated testing tools that they refer to as a Simian Army to deliberately wreak havoc in unpredictable but monitored ways. Why? Because Netflix’ engineers know that what doesn’t kill their company makes it stronger. Netflix is not alone; these practices were pioneered at Amazon a decade ago and have seen adoption at the likes of Flickr, Yahoo, Facebook, Google, and Etsy.
A surprisingly large proportion of companies concede that they are unprepared for the scope, severity and sophistication of today’s attacks. Nearly 45 percent of CIOs surveyed in Accenture’s 2013 High Performance IT Research admit they have been underinvesting in cybersecurity. Many feel overwhelmed about where to begin; their chances of catching up seem daunting and expensive.
Fortunately, there are already a myriad of services that – if strategically implemented – can make IT systems better able to withstand failure, notifying administrators of dysfunction, increasing portability, and providing self-healing capabilities—features that circumvent the deficiencies of the highly available, state-of-the-art systems of just a few years ago.
Rather than trying to design resiliency into every component, it is now best to take a systemic approach where the service delivery architecture should be able to survive the loss of any component—including that of entire data centers. And when components or data centers do fail in a resilient architecture, it’s no longer a disaster recovery event; it is a high-availability event.
The time to start architecting for resiliency is right now—not when customers expect it or when losses in trade secrets, revenue, or brand value, have reached painful levels. To learn more about the security strategy and tools you have at your disposal, and Accenture’s view on Architecting Resilience, read the 2014 Accenture Technology Vision.
A large corporation that is as agile as its global customers need it to be? There’s an app for that.
In 2012, China Eastern Corp. developed its own app store. The airline wanted to drive mobile app adoption across the company; its rationale was that fast-growing mobile phone use in China would help drive growth for the airline and also improve productivity and efficiency, especially among the 50,000 of its employees who use their mobiles for work. Now, the airline makes good use of mobile apps in areas such as aircraft maintenance, employee feedback services, and mobile office automation. China Eastern has also bought 2,500 iPads for in-cabin services, helping it earn a reputation as an early adopter of the latest mobility technologies.
Why mention this example? Eager for relief from some of their biggest pain points—especially their systems’ lack of agility—business leaders have been pushing for software that is far nimbler than the legacy systems they’ve relied on for decades. They have been pressing IT to give them, in the workplace, the kinds of low-cost, accessible, and often intelligent apps they use every day on their own mobile devices.
Yes, there will always be big, complex enterprise software systems to support large organizations and it will still be necessary for IT developers to keep customizing those systems. But now, as large enterprises push for greater IT agility, there is a sharp shift toward simpler, more modular, and more custom apps.
However, enterprise apps introduce an interesting issue. In the consumer world, applications have the luxury of being relatively self-contained. Shazam, for example, excels at capturing a song heard playing in a café, but the user doesn’t need it to manage her playlist; she has another app for that. In the enterprise world the problems being solved are much more complex. They often involve multiple applications to run intricate business processes that may span multiple time zones, several countries, and thousands of employees.
To attack these big enterprise-level problems, then, something more than a single, nimble app is needed. The way forward is to think in terms of the application’s ability to connect with other applications. In fact, the push is toward libraries or “ecosystems” of applications that can, while still being individually simple and agile, be bolted together to tackle the most challenging problems.
For example Japan’s largest bank, Japan Post Network is using apps on Force.com’s platform to streamline business planning and compete in new markets. The bank created 15 custom apps to provide business process visibility after integrating three existing companies: Postal Savings, Postal Life Insurance, and Postal Service. With 24,000 post offices nationwide, it efficiently serves 14 billion mail packages annually and more than 6 million insurance policies for upwards of 100 million clients while achieving flexibility and a reduced total cost of ownership.
Over the next few years, we expect to see some striking examples of business groups that are much more engaged in the lifecycle of “their” own front-end apps. We anticipate something of a resurgence in custom development as leading companies view it as their best option for pursuing the objectives of a digital business. And we are confident that we will observe more and more CIOs and IT leaders sitting down with their business colleagues to discuss how they can help facilitate the new application development trend.
The Business of Applications is one of six new trends covered in this year’s Technology Vision. To read more about building an applications ecosystem, and the other IT trends you need to know about, visit our site here: www.accenture.com/technologyvision
Whoever said “everything old is new again” may have had a point—especially where computing hardware is concerned.
Think of Coca-Cola, Pirelli (a tire manufacturer), and the NBA. What could they all possibly have in common? As it turns out, those three companies are turning to hyperscale hardware appliances to help them perform real-time analytics on huge datasets to gain insight and competitive advantage — to match the speed of their non-stop business. The diversity of the companies demonstrates that data challenges exist across every industry, of all size, and as such it’s crucial to understand hyperscale systems, big data appliances, and the importance of hardware to inform and optimize the digital business.
Remember not long ago, when every announcement of a new, multicore microprocessor or personal computer met with fanfare? There was lots of buzz about clock rates and cache memory capacity. But in recent years, the prevailing sentiment has been that hardware no longer matters—that x86 servers are nothing more than off-the-shelf commodities and all the important advances now happen in software. Hardware took a definite backseat to software.
Fast forward to today and looking to the future, it looks like hardware is making a comeback. “Hardware as an afterthought” is now a harmful view because it impedes an enterprise’s transformation to a digital business. Every industry will be touched by the technologies developed for the era of “hyperscale” computing systems. But before jumping in, let’s take a step back and define what exactly “hyperscale” means.
Accenture uses the term to describe not just the physical infrastructure of giant and distributed systems, but also the ability to scale computing tasks to achieve performance that is orders of magnitude better than the status quo. Supersized, super-scalable, and resilient data centers were originally pioneered by the likes of Google and Facebook, but large Internet companies shouldn’t be the only ones interested. Today, more and more businesses are getting on board.
This rapid growth of hyperscale systems has sparked a renaissance in hardware innovation from which all businesses can benefit. Innovations around processors, storage, and specialized hardware are proving to be opportunities for tangible benefits to the business.
For example, Facebook’s Open Compute Project is a development causing significant discussion within technology circles. The initiative involves openly sharing hardware innovations, following the model associated with open-source software projects. Facebook now claims that it can build its data centers at one-fifth of the cost of a traditional data center – for an enterprise of any size this would be a significant benefit.
With all of this technological innovation, companies are starting to have to ask some hard questions about hardware. Over the next five years, every IT department will consistently be faced with the choice between leveraging external clouds and building computing infrastructure on premise. Each decision made must take into consideration the underlying hardware.
For more information on Harnessing Hyperscale, read Accenture’s 2014 Technology Vision. High-performing companies are increasingly recognizing that hyperscale systems are a vital part of becoming a digital business. To get started, technology leaders need to ask themselves, “What could our business do with unlimited compute power that can be turned on and off as needed?”
Everywhere you turn in technology, it seems like someone is talking about big data. Big data, big data, BIG DATA! Does that ring a bell? Let’s be honest, the more you hear it, the more you want to ignore it. And that’s the problem. You can’t ignore big data—not if you want to remain competitive in today’s business world.
That’s right, big data is not just about technology, it’s about business. Anyone who fails to grasp this is falling behind.
However, even if you know that big data is important, it doesn’t mean data is treated that way within your organization. Big data is tough, and silos abound—whether from departments hoarding data to implementing the newest technologies in piecemeal. How do you tackle these problems? Is it through a mindset change, capitalizing on new technologies, or both?
The Data Supply Chain, featured in Accenture’s 2014 Technology Vision, argues that companies must view their data in terms of an end-to-end solution—or a data supply chain—in order to break down data silos and realize business value from their data. It’s about strategizing for integration and long-term value at scale, and the good news is that there are many advances in technology to help with this.
So how exactly does the data supply chain work? Think of it this way. The supply chain begins when data is created, imported, or combined with other data. The data then moves, flows, and transforms through the supply chain, incrementally acquiring value. The supply chain ends with a valuable insight as its output.
First and foremost, the data supply chain requires data movement, and that’s where the data services platform comes in. Analogous to the blueprint of a factory floor, this platform provides the structure for the intelligent transportation of data through the organization. It enables the effective supply chain—through data access and data velocity, working together to meet the needs of the business.
There are many implications of the successful data services platform on the data supply chain. One is that new external data sources can be leveraged—whether from partners, Data-as-a-Service providers, or open data sources. In a similar way, at the end of the supply chain, companies should be looking beyond their four walls to monetize their data.
The process of discovering new insights is also changing as users get faster access to more data. Data discovery helps businesses figure out the questions they should be asking (and then answers them) by uncovering insights in a visually interactive and rapidly iterative manner. It empowers users to “communicate” with data at close to the speed of thought—accelerating businesses’ time to insight.
And of course, there are major advances being done in the realms of machine learning and cognitive computing—which are able to leverage the growing volume and variety of data to mask the complexity of the data supply chain at scale.
For more information about these concepts and more, read the Data Supply Chain in Accenture’s 2014 Technology Vision. Managing data well within an enterprise may be a daunting task, but progress becomes possible when the transformation process is viewed as a matter of small steps rather than one giant leap. And that’s what we’re trying to help with—making big data feel a little smaller.
So yes, this is another discussion about big data, but it matters. It matters more than ever.
Local Motors is an automotive startup and creator of the Rally Fighter. While the car may not be a traditionally beautiful car, there is a sublime beauty in how it came to be.
A harbinger of the future, Local Motors created a global community of car enthusiasts that included engineers, mechanics, and industrial designers and broke down the creation of the vehicle into a set of tasks that were widely distributed, via the cloud, to this eclectic workforce. In just 18 months, those individuals—working closely with the company’s employees—designed, manufactured, and delivered a car that this user community loves.
So intriguing is Local Motors’ social-plus-collaborative take on car making that it was noticed by another automotive company – BMW. BMW hopes to use the startup’s expanded workforce model to move beyond typical focus groups and inference, developing and testing new automobile interiors that reflect users’ true desires rather than incomplete and veiled answers
Local Motors provides a provocative example of leveraging an unconventional workforce to accomplish something previously thought impossible. And they aren’t the only ones doing it. Whether it’s turning to places like Kaggle to answer tough data science questions, connecting to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or other services like Elance and oDesk, more companies are starting to utilize what Accenture calls the expanded workforce.
Given that so much collaboration happens through digital channels, there is the potential for almost limitless collaboration with everyone else who is connected to the Internet—regardless of whether they are “your” employee or not. Which raises a crucial question for business and IT leaders: “Are we missing out by not connecting to this ‘expanded workforce,’ everywhere and in all directions?” The short answer is “yes”.
Innovation is now at or near the top of the C-suite agenda in every organization. But it remains difficult to execute—difficult to scale up and to ramp up fast, and hard to ensure that the results are of the quality expected.
Name almost any challenge and there are often already communities of experts that companies can leverage to competently address it. The individuals involved may be around the corner or on the other side of the world; what they have in common is not only the experience and expertise to solve the problem but the motivation—in many cases the passion—to do so.
A crucial point to make is that the use of the expanded workforce is not another form of labor arbitrage. The current workforce is not going away and not every problem will be well suited to crowdsourced solutions. However, it is no longer enough to rely only on groups of in-house individuals to drive market research, innovation, and product-development activities.
Given the relative immaturity of these crowd-based services and platforms, there’s still much to be learned. This is why Accenture chose to include the expanded workforce as a trend in this year’s Technology Vision. In the full chapter you can find a wealth of examples, information about the tools and communities that exist, as well as useful guiding principles in planning and implementing this great addition to your workforce.
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