Salesforce announce Customer Data Platform.

This week Salesforce have announced they are launching a customer data platform (CDP) to help brands unify their marketing data.  Ultimately, the goal is to create one view of the customer regardless of how they choose to connect.  So, whether customers log in using the web, via an app on a smart device or walk into a store, their profile and data will all link up to create a birds-eye view of buying activity and browsing preference.

Marty Kihn, SVP of product strategy for the Salesforce marketing cloud remarked that this development is a logical extension of its CRM software;

“The needs that customers are expressing from a CDP are very similar to what they need from a CRM: a single view of the customer, clean data, a place to do analytics, and the ability to bring data together from multiple channels.”

Salesforce are not the only company to create a CDP for their customers.  Oracle has recently announced CX Unity, while Adobe launched Triggered Journeys based on “a rich pool of centralised data” to advance Customer Experience Management for Marketers.

Salesforce is integrating their CDP offering into their well-established Customer 360 package.  This new addition will only enhance the current solution – one that is aimed at providing brands with a 360 view of their customers.

The Salesforce platform will have three pillars;  identity management, a system of engagement, and a system of insight.

The identity management arm will stitch together the data on people, and will map identity across multiple pieces of software.  The systems of insight function will power the personalisation of the journey. It will use all the data to understand the “next best action” a brand can take in order to maximise the buying potential of each customer.  The system of engagement will use this insight to facilitate meaningful contact. Using the data, businesses can personalise emails for example, while any website links, apps and messages can be made relevant to each customer.

At the current time, Salesforce have made clear this is a pre-announcement.  These services are currently in beta but will be made available as a pilot in the autumn.

For many enterprises, the struggle to glean meaningful information across multiple databases is an issue, and one that is limiting their trajectory. It’s no secret that it will be data-driven insight which will propel business going forward.  We are sure that this attempt to streamline the process will be welcomed by Salesforce’s massive customer base.

Microsoft open first Cloud region in the Middle East.

Software giants, Microsoft has beaten rival public cloud providers, Google and Amazon in the race to open the first cloud region in the Middle East.

From Tuesday of this week, Microsoft Azure and Office 365 became available from two data centres located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE); one in Dubai and the other in Abu Dhabi.

Microsoft first signed they had plans to open Middle East data centers in March last year, shortly before Google revealed that they too had ambitions to open a Middle East cloud region in Saudi Arabia.  

Amazon are also coming to the party. Their cloud unit, AWS, also has middle eastern ambitions.  Amazon is expected to launch in Bahrain later this year.

It is clear that ‘The Big Three’ are racing to expand their rest of the world offerings and provide local infrastructure – replete with lower latency, faster data transfers, and data sovereignty, all in a bid to attract more customers across the globe.

Indeed, Microsoft also recently opened its first African data centres; again blazing a trail ahead of its rivals.  However, Amazon has revealed Africa as a location they wish to conquer in 2020.

In evidence of this, Microsoft wrote in a recent blog post:

“By delivering the complete, intelligent Microsoft Cloud — comprising Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics 365 — from data centers in a given geography, we offer scalable, available, and resilient cloud services for companies and organizations while helping them meet their data residency, security, and compliance needs.”

Microsoft will open up Dynamics 365 and Power Platform from the region later in 2019.

MIT researchers set to “humanise” robots using sense technology.

Always at the forefront of innovation, researchers from the MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have developed new tech that could equip robots with the very human ability to link multiple senses.  

The new system will use predictive AI that is able to learn how to ‘see’ using its sense of touch.  Put simply, this means that the robot would be able to look at a surface, object or material and anticipate what it may feel like once touched.  For example; it would be able to recognise that a cushion would be soft, or marble would be cold and hard.

The system would also be able to anticipate tactile, touch-based input and translate that into an image of what an object may look like.  The best example of this would be a child’s sensory touch box at a museum; one where the object is hidden and the child is tasked with having to feel and identify the object within.

So why is this so useful?  CSAIL are able to provide a better, industry-relevant example.  The team taught their robotic arm system to anticipate where an object would be without sight of the object, and then recognise it based on touch. Such developments facilitate a robot to reach for a lever, switch or car part for example and verify that it has the right thing without any human interaction.

This type of AI could also be useful in environments with low or limited light, as it would not require advanced sensors.  It can also be used to enhance and develop both general and existing AI systems; one that is designed to be used in conjunction with other sensory stimulation technologies.

In the future, this type of model could help build a more harmonious relationship between vision and robotics; especially with regard to object recognition, grasping and scene understanding. It will also help to revolutionise human-robot integration in an assistive or manufacturing setting.

Andrew Owens is a post-doc at the University of California at Berkeley.  He reminds us of the importance of these developments when he states;

“Methods like this have the potential to be very useful for robotics, where you need to answer questions like ‘is this object hard or soft?’, or ‘if I lift this mug by its handle, how good will my grip be?’ This is a very challenging problem, since the signals are so different, and this model has demonstrated great capability.”

More UK businesses embark on automation projects.

The latest research from content IQ provider ABBYY, indicates that UK companies are spending an average of £3.1m on AI technologies.

The UK’s investment in automation averages at £1.2m per company, with “efficiency” being identified as the catalyst for such high levels of investment.  62% of companies questioned believed their spend to have been worthwhile and reported that business performance had been improved through the use of AI technologies.

While automation will not necessarily solve all the issues facing businesses today, it certainly has the potential to address some of the difficulties encountered by a 21st-century enterprise.  This is something that hasn’t gone unrecognised; 94% of UK businesses have embarked on automation projects in some capacity.

Despite this though, the research also identified a significant lack of education and team development around AI.  As a result, the technologies that may deliver the most ROI are often overlooked…remarkable considering the high levels of financial investment thrown into it.  In fact, more than two-thirds of companies were identified as failing to educate staff on how to use it. One in six claimed their business had no strategy in place or if they did, respondents were not aware of it.

Neil Murphy, Global VP at ABBYY, remarked that;

“Enterprises must focus on improving education and strategy to avoid missing out on the automation solutions that could truly transform their business, and to help them succeed on their digital transformation journey.”

He also identified that abundant need for companies and their teams to embrace this new tech and recognise its evident potential;

“Making it work requires not only monetary investment, but also a watertight, long-term strategy and the right people with the right skill sets”.

This is something we have witnessed first hand at Ignite Digital HQ.  Our team is fully immersed in finding the top tech talent to create, drive and implement digital transformation projects.  We partner disruptive startups alongside some of the most well established, household names in the UK as they strive to find solutions to their talent needs.  

Are you looking to be a part of the AI revolution, create waves and help shape the future of UK business?  Why not drop us a line today to find out more about some of our tech, digital and data opportunities. We’d love to hear from you!

Blue Prism acquire UK’s Thoughtonomy.

A software company, Blue Prism helped coin the term Robotic Process Automation (RPA) back in 2001 when the concept was in its infancy.  A system which lets organisations shift repetitive back-office tasks to machines to complete; RPA is an area that has evolved to become a hot area of growth within the world of enterprise IT.  

This week it has been revealed that Blue Prism have acquired Thoughtonomy, a smaller, lesser known UK startup to continue their work.  Blue Prism have unveiled a new AI initiative, and it is thought that they intend to use Thoughtonomy’s cloud-based AI engine that delivers RPA-based solutions on a SaaS framework to extend their capabilities.  

Although the two companies were already working in collaboration before this acquisition, it is now thought that the Thoughtonomy tech will be helping Blue Prism get its services to the next level of where RPA is going.    

Terry Walby, CEO and founder of Thoughtonomy describes how his start up will help legacy provider Blue Prism remain relevant within a world where younger companies are building tech from scratch on newer frameworks;

“We provide architectural support and add intelligence,” Walby said in an interview. “Our platform addresses activities that require understanding or interpretation, and so it expands the use cases for RPA beyond structured processes.”

The acquisition comes about 6 months after Blue Prism announced it would be raising around $130million to continue growing at a time when RPA is enjoying a boom.  The Thoughtonomy acquisition has been made off the back of this raise. Furthermore, Linda Dotts, SVP of global partner strategy and programs at Blue Prism confirmed that the company would be looking at other opportunities; a sign that we can expect more consolidation in this space.  

In a statement made to the market, Blue Prism revealed that it would be paying up to £80 million ($100 million) for the firm, with the deal coming in a combination of cash and stock across a two year period.

Blue Prism’s long term success highlights the importance of recognising an emerging trend and jumping on it!  It certainly seems it pays off to be an early mover. As is so often the way, we are sure that this blend of Thoughtonomy’s youth and Blue Prism’s experience will be a marriage made in AI heaven.

And finally…..

Google’s AR animals entertain on Android.

Have you ever wondered how your household moggy measures up to a cheetah or how your goldfish competes with a Great White?  Well, wonder no more!

It has been announced this week that search giant, Google is launching a tool which will see android users be able to create a zoo in their living room!

Android users with models by Huawei, Samsung, LG and OnePlus will be able to view moving animals alongside their household pets simply by using the device’s camera.

Apple also supports a diverse range of AR apps, and while some iPhone users appear to be able to access this feature, others cannot.  

Although this particular feature is a bit of fun, AR is a trend which is growing…if you ever were part of the Pokemon Go phenomenon of 2016, this is a prime example of how it has disrupted gaming in particular. However, it is also tech which is transforming other areas; education and interior design being just two.  For example, Swedish interior store Ikea’s app allows customers to place its furniture in their homes using AR to see what furnishings would look like before they are bought.

Kate Bevan is the editor of Which? Magazine.  She agrees that AR is likely to play a pivotal role in business strategy such as that modelled by Ikea going forward.  However, she also anticipates a time when AR will be used on a wider scale;

“AR will also be used for practical things like navigation: Google is already rolling out a trial of AR maps for owners of its Pixel phones, and I expect to see that more widely available next year.”

Fancy a bit of fun this Friday afternoon and want to have a go?

Here’s the How To:

  1. Look up an animal in the Google search engine (this requires a bit of trial and error as they aren’t all featured – definite successes include penguin, cheetah, dog, cat, snake, bear, eagle and raccoon)
  2. If the animal is supported, a box which says “meet a life-sized cheetah” (for example) will be visible
  3. Inside that box is a button which says “view in 3D”
  4. Press that and then select “view in your own space”
  5. It will then activate the camera and ask you to point it at the floor.

Let us know how you get on!

 

About the author: As Client Relationship Director, I am responsible for helping grow the new and existing client base of Ignite Digital. I work as a “trusted connection” with my clients and candidates aiming to deliver the best service I can to connect talent to opportunity.

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