Monday, February 9, 2015

Your Boss" Opinion Matters More Than You Think

We’re all familiar with the phrase “seeing is believing.” Witnessing an unusual or unexpected event increases your ability to regard it as valid. But is the opposite also true? Do we tend to see what we believe? Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, has noted that his overwhelming conclusion about people’s decision-making challenges is that they tend to seek only for information that confirms what they originally believed.

Over the last several months my colleague Jack Zenger and I have been working with a multinational company to assess and coach their top three levels of management. As we completed individual coaching sessions it was apparent that some managers had a positive bias and others had a negative bias in their ratings of employees.

To understand this better we looked at a larger dataset of 360 data. In a recent Harvard Business review article we shared a study where we identified 50 positive and 31 negative rating managers. These managers rated their direct reports significantly more or less positively than the rest of their colleagues. The graph below shows the 5-point rating scale for this 360 degree feedback instrument and the percentage of time each group of managers used each point on the scale.

These ratings represent the following scores:

  1. Needs significant improvement—Poor performance

  2. Needs some improvement—Inconsistent performance

  3. Competent—Good performance

  4. Strength—Top quartile

  5. Outstanding strength—Top 10%

Note that only 18.4% of the positive managers’ ratings were “Competent” compared to 51.4% for the negative managers.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 8.12.10 PMThe Impact of a Positive or Negative Rating Manager

What is the impact when managers inherently rate more positively or negatively? Is the rating an objective and accurate analysis of a subordinate’s performance, or does the rating itself influence the subordinate’s performance?

Anyone who would have joined me in the discussions with the subordinates of the “high” and “low” rating managers would have instantly seen the impact. Those people who had higher, more positive ratings felt lifted up and supported. The vote of confidence from their managers gave them optimism about additional improvement.

But the subordinates who had a negative-rating manager were confused or discouraged, and often both. They felt it was impossible to succeed. They often heard the message as “you are not valued or trusted.” What effect did that have?

We measured employee engagement data for the direct reports of positive and negative rating managers. Direct reports who worked for negative rating managers had engagement scores at the 47th percentile. Those reporting to positive rating managers had engagement scores at the 60th percentile. This difference is statistically significant.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 8.12.30 PM

We acknowledge that that negative rating managers may select less engaged employees, but the far more likely explanation is that the engagement levels of these employees was roughly the same, but the diverse day to day interactions capped by very divergent performance reviews had a big impact on engagement levels.

Possible Motives of Positive or Negative Rating Managers

Negative raters would typically say something like, “I want my people to get the message that I have high expectations.” The positive rating manager’s motive and message was quite different. They too had high expectations, but the message they desired to send was that they had confidence in their people. They believed that they had selected the greatest people for those jobs and they expected them to succeed.

Impact of Manager Expectations

Did those expectations change the behavior of the subordinates of these high and low rating managers?

Having spoken with hundreds of leaders whose bosses thought they were awesome, we know the impact is real. It is our hope these findings can have a positive impact on the ratings—and the messages—leaders are sending to their current and future employees. Your ability to build their engagement is much higher than you may have believed.


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Your Boss" Opinion Matters More Than You Think

Why Cloud Databases Are In Your Future

Why Cloud Databases Are In Your Future

The cloud has gotten pretty complicated—and crowded. There are more new “as a service” offerings popping up lately than reality TV shows.

Yet, one of those offerings in particular has a great shot at becoming an enterprise staple, and a long-term platform for IT innovation—database as a service. Indeed, Larry Ellison, Executive Chairman and CTO of Oracle made this prediction recently: “Database is our largest software business and database will be our largest cloud business.”

A database cloud service, or database as a service (DBaaS), makes database capabilities available online, when and where those capabilities are needed. The user can access a slice of a database (a schema), or, more likely, a complete, dedicated database instance. Or an enterprise can offer DBaaS running in its own data center for internal customers.

Done right, DBaaS promises significant cost advantages over traditional database strategies. That, as well as the other big benefits the cloud is so often touted for: agility, scalability, speed of deployment, and a steady flow of new capabilities.

That’s why DBaaS, though a relatively new cloud category, is generating a lot of interest. One estimate has the market for cloud databases and DBaaS growing from $1 billion this year to $14 billion by 2019.

Even as that momentum builds, it’s important to understand that the corporate data center is not going away any time soon. Many businesses will take a phased approach, in which certain types of databases are moved to the cloud while others remain on premise.

“Customers today are primarily running mission-critical database systems on dedicated servers and storage in their data centers,” says Andy Mendelsohn, Oracle Executive VP for Database Server Technologies. These vital databases often support an organization’s crown jewels, such as a bank’s customer accounts system or a discount store’s merchandising system. Because of their criticality to the business, these databases “will likely remain on premise for many years to come” Mendelsohn says.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of databases that could benefit from cloud computing’s efficiencies. Large companies “have thousands of databases,” many of which may be well suited for the cloud, Mendelsohn points out. Those include databases that are used for developing new applications or testing them and less critical production systems.

And the prime directive regarding those thousands of dev/test systems at most enterprises is “lower the cost of running all those databases,” says Mendelsohn.

The cloud, in combination with virtualization, can help do that. Virtual machine (VM) technology allows a single physical server to run many virtual servers or VMs, which enables server consolidation.

That means you can take say “9,000 databases running today on 9,000 servers, and consolidate them onto 500 servers,” Mendelsohn says. The problem with that scenario, however, is that you still have 9,000 databases to manage. The solution: “What if I could consolidate those 9,000 databases down to 40 databases?” Mendelsohn asks.

That’s where Oracle’s new database architecture comes in. The most recent release of Oracle’s flagship system, Oracle Database 12c, features a fundamental new architecture called Oracle Multitenant that lets developers create “pluggable” databases—up to 252 of them—that run in one “container” database. DBAs can now do most common administration functions like patching, upgrade, and backup at the container database level. This drastically reduces the cost of managing your databases.  Plus efficiencies in the new multitenant architecture allow up to 5x more databases to be run on a given server or VM, which ups the ante considerably on the hardware savings represented by server consolidation.

Oracle Multitenant “lowers your hardware costs, but the big win is around lowering labor costs,” Mendelsohn points out.

That’s because there are now far fewer databases to manage, and Oracle Enterprise Manager 12c, the company’s advanced database administration tool, works in conjunction with Oracle Multitenant to automate the monitoring and tuning of Oracle pluggable databases. It also provides metering and chargeback capabilities that let managers monitor and report database usage. That chargeback capability is an important function in a service-oriented private cloud architecture, which is where most customers are looking to implement Oracle DBaaS technologies today.

Business Agility

Customers want the cost savings—both CapEx and OpEx—represented by DBaaS, and they’re realizing they can get them using cloud database capabilities in a private cloud architecture. As well, they want to provide the efficient and available IT resources that many LOB managers have been looking outside their organizations to get. “One of the reasons they want to do database as a service on premise is to give business units the same agility they can get in the cloud,” Mendelsohn says.

That’s why Oracle cloud database capabilities—Oracle Database 12c with Oracle Multitenant, Oracle Enterprise Manager 12c, along with tools for database security, performance, and recoverability Oracle has been honing over years—“resonate very strongly with them,” Mendelsohn says. He expects to see significant adoption of Oracle Database12c related to DBaaS.

Customers can reap the benefits of Oracle DBaaS in Oracle’s public cloud or in private clouds that they implement and manage on their own. “Oracle Database 12c Multitenant Architecture is the cornerstone of our effort to redesign the database for the cloud, whether public or private cloud,” Mendelsohn says.

Increasingly, enterprises are moving test, dev, and production applications, and the databases they run on, to the public cloud. A key requirement here is to support hybrid cloud, where some databases remain in the corporate data center and some are in the cloud. Oracle’s strategy is to make sure any database application that runs on premise can also run in the public cloud and vice versa.   At Oracle OpenWorld 2014 in San Francisco, Ellison demonstrated how customers can move an on-premise Oracle database to the Oracle Public Cloud in minutes without changing a single line of code.

As more CIOs look for that kind of flexibility, Oracle is well positioned to support those critical systems with its cloud infrastructure and its advanced cloud database technology. Customers will understand, Mendelsohn says, that Oracle is “best in the world at doing database as a service in the cloud.”

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Why Cloud Databases Are In Your Future

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

15 programming languages you need to know in 2015

If you’re a programmer, these are good times. Jobs in the segment are projected to grow 8% over the next seven years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you’re a hotshot coder, you can make up to $300 an hour or more.

Those at the high end of the pay scale have mastered the languages that are most in demand. Which are those? We asked Doug Winnie, director of content for online learning platform Lynda. Here’s his assessment:

1. Java


Image: Mashable Composite/Wikimedia

Java is one of the most popular languages for building back-ends for modern enterprise-web applications. With Java and frameworks based on it, web developers can build scalable web apps for a variety of users. Java is also the main language used to develop native Android apps for smartphones and tablets.

2. JavaScript

Every modern website uses JavaScript. It’s the go-to language if you want to create interactivity for your site, or build user interfaces with one of the dozens of popular JavaScript frameworks.


C# is the primary language for developing on Microsoft platforms and services. Whether you’re building modern web applications using Azure and .NET, apps for Windows devices or powerful desktop apps for your business, C# is the quickest way to harness all that Microsoft has to offer. Want to play, as well? The popular Unity game development engine also uses C# as one of its primary languages.

4. PHP

Building a web app that needs to work with data? PHP, along with databases like MySQL, are essential tools for building modern web applications. PHP powers a majority of today’s data-driven websites, and is the foundation technology for powerful content management systems, like WordPress, which you can extend to make your site more powerful.

5. C++

Want to get a little lower level with your programming? When you need to connect directly to hardware to get the most out of your processing power, C++ is the perfect choice for developing powerful desktop software, hardware-accelerated games and memory-intensive apps on desktops, consoles and mobile devices.

6. Python

Python can almost do it all. Web apps, user interfaces, data analysis, statistics — whatever your problem, there’s likely a framework for it in Python. Most recently, Python has been used as a key tool for data scientists to sift through giant data sets for any industry.

7. C


Image: Mashable Composite/Wikimedia Commons

Why is the C language still popular? Size. C is small, fast and powerful. If you’re building software for embedded systems, working with system kernels or just want to squeeze every last drop of the resources you have at hand, C is lean, mean and ready to scream.

 8. SQL

Data is massive, it’s everywhere and it’s complex. SQL gives you the ability to find the exact information you want in a fast, repeatable and reliable way. Using SQL, you can easily query and extract meaningful data from large, complex databases.


Want to kickstart your project in record time, or prototype a new idea for your next big web app? Ruby (and Ruby on Rails) can get you there quickly. The Ruby language is straightforward to learn and incredibly powerful, plus it powers tons of popular web apps around the globe.

10. Objective-C


Image: Mashable Composite/Wikmedia Commons

If you’re interested in making an app for iOS, you’ll need to know Objective-C. While last year’s hype centered on Apple’s new language Swift, Objective-C is still the foundational language if you want to build apps for the Apple ecosystem. With Objective-C and XCode, the official software development tool from Apple, you’ll be in the App Store in no time.

11. Perl

Is Perl esoteric? Yes. Is it confusing? Yes. Is it a super powerful language, and a key component of anyone’s cyber security arsenal? Also true. Perl has powered the web since its early beginnings, and is still considered a key tool for any IT professional.

12 .NET

Although not a language in itself, .NET is a key Microsoft platform for cloud, service and app development that gets more advanced and valuable with each release. Due to the recent open-sourcing efforts of Microsoft, .NET is now coming to Google and Apple platforms. As a result, you can use .NET today with a variety of programming languages to build apps that easily support multiple platforms.

13. Visual Basic

Visual Basic is the language that gets business done. A key language of the .NET platform, it enables you to build applications to support your business, and automate powerful Office applications like Excel to accomplish super-human feats of computation, as well as streamline your most common tasks.

14. R

R is powering the revolution of big data, and is a must-know language in 2015 for anyone in need of serious data analysis. From science and business to entertainment and social media, R is the language to learn for statistical analysis across nearly every field of interest.

15. Swift

Not even a year old, the Swift programming language has captured the eyes and keyboards of developers worldwide as a new, fast and easy way to develop for Apple’s Mac and iOS operating systems. Swift’s broad power and friendly syntax makes it possible for anyone with a Mac to build the next killer app for iOS or Mac OS X.

via 15 programming languages you need to know in 2015.

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15 programming languages you need to know in 2015

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Facebook"s "emotional experiment" is most shared academic research

Facebook’s notorious emotional manipulation study received more online attention than any other scientific research in 2014, according to an analytics company.

The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks”, was published in the respected US journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in July.

It sparked outrage by revealing that Facebook had been experimenting on hundreds of thousands of unwitting users, attempting to induce an “emotional state” by selectively showing positive or negative stories in their news feeds.

Academic analysts Altmetric suggests that the research will have done wonders for the scientists’ public engagement metrics after it ranked number one for attention out of every scientific article published in 2014.

Perhaps surprisingly, the majority of the recorded attention was on Twitter, where the article was shared 4,000 times to almost 10 million people. On Facebook itself there was little reaction to the research, which was shared publicly just 344 times. However, there were likely to have been more private wall posts on Facebook, so the total cannot be determined.

The article was also mentioned in 300 news sites, 130 blogposts, 13 subreddits and even 113 Google+ profiles.

But while Facebook may be a natural topic for online attention, the rest of the top five articles are more varied – and so are their reasons for getting so much attention. Second place went to a seemingly unassuming paper in the Journal of Ethology titled “Variation in Melanism and Female Preference in Proximate but Ecologically Distinct Environments”. But a quick scan of the articles citing the paper reveals the reason for its notability: the article was published with an author’s comment left in, asking “should we cite the crappy Gabor paper here?”.

The rest of the top five at least made the list for their contents. Third place went to a study from Nature suggesting that artificial sweeteners could induce glucose intolerance, while fourth place was a breakthrough in stem-cell research also published in Nature.

And the fifth place? Research published in Frontiers in Zoology in which animal behaviourists watched dogs defecating and discovered that they were sensitive to small variations in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Euan Adie, founder of Altmetric, said: “It’s no surprise to see that the most shared articles of the year heavily mirror the media agenda, but interesting to note that on occasion online communities are drawing attention to studies that have not received a significant amount of mainstream coverage.

“For example, we had more than 2,000 tweets for a study on how gaining basic certification affected nursing confidence levels. This reached a combined following of more than 2.2 million followers, demonstrating how social media can really boost the profile of some online published studies.”

via Facebook’s ‘emotional experiment’ is most shared academic research | Technology | The Guardian.

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Facebook"s "emotional experiment" is most shared academic research

Restless At Work? LinkedIn Can Guess What You"ll Do Next

A generation ago, if you felt restless in your job and weren’t sure what to do next, you could ask your boss or friends for advice — or you could visit the local fortune-teller. Now however, an intriguing new LinkedIn tool provides some pretty good guesses about what you’ll do next.

LinkedIn’s data-visualization team has created a giant sphere that’s speckled with nearly 300 types of jobs, ranging from actors to firefighters, insurance agents and Oracle database administrators. Click on any one of those categories — and an animated version of connect-the-dots will spring forth, showing you the most common career moves of people in those fields. This link will let you test the system yourself.

To create these forecasts, LinkedIn research consultant Sohan Murthy explained in a blog post, the company’s data scientists culled through the career histories of more than 300 million people with LinkedIn profiles. Researchers focused on cases where people switched to at least a slightly different category, instead of simply moving up the ladder in their chosen specialty. LinkedIn’s analysts also discarded cases involving people who had switched careers multiple times, or whose current careers straddle multiple categories.

Many of the career paths are exactly what you’d expect. Financial consultants tend to become accountants and data analysts. Psychologists end up as social workers or university professors. And when today’s job becomes unbearable,  just about everybody is willing to give sales a try.

But in an intriguing number of cases, LinkedIn’s mapping system unearthed job hops that are far from obvious. Among them:

  • Soldiers and military officers, when they transition to civilian life, may pick new jobs as diverse as corporate strategists, business owners or police officers.

  • Geologists sometimes end up as information-technology support specialists or environmental specialists.

  • Pharmacists cross over to the other side of the counter and become medical representatives.

  • People who start out as political staffers can end up as everything from lawyers and judges to public-relations offices.

Another oddity: fields that offer very little mobility. As LinkedIn’s Murthy points out, people who become web developers, paralegals or physicians have hardly any common career options beyond staying in their current field. Bad news? Not necessarily.

In Murthy’s words, “this is a classic sign of specialization,” and that’s nothing to weep about. If demand for these skills stays strong, and the work is enjoyable, people in such aspects of law, tech and health care may never feel the urge to switch.

via Restless At Work? LinkedIn Can Guess What You’ll Do Next.

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Restless At Work? LinkedIn Can Guess What You"ll Do Next

Why So Many New Tech Companies Are Getting into Health Care

A flood of new health care IT companies has been pouring into the U.S. health care market. The cause of this torrent: the recognition that as market and regulatory forces alter incentives in health care, IT companies will play a powerful role in combating the overemployment and declining productivity that has plagued this industry and in helping providers improve the quality of care.

The dam broke in September 2007, when Athenahealth went public, the price of its shares jumping by 97% on the first day. Since then, the company’s value has risen to $5 billion. Athenahealth proved to entrepreneurs, software engineers, and investors that the health care sector is fertile ground for creating large technology-services companies that use a subscription-based business model to offer software as a service (SaaS).

Despite its size and growth rate, the health care sector was long considered an impenetrable, or at least an unattractive, target for IT innovation — the entrepreneurial equivalent of Siberia. Athenahealth broke the ice by proving that it could sell SaaS efficiently to small physician businesses, get doctors to accept off-premises software, and achieve the ratios of customer-acquisition costs to long-term value that other sectors already enjoy.

As Athenahealth accomplished its goals, several larger forces have dramatically widened the scope of opportunity in the sector:

  • The Great Recession led to a loss of 8.8 million U.S. jobs and big declines in demand throughout the economy (including health care services) — yet health care employment grew by 7.2%. That reality increased awareness that a decline in labor productivity was driving much of the excessive spending in health care.

  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, a $25.9 billion program to give doctors and hospitals incentives to adopt electronic health records. EHR adoption has now grown to nearly 80% of office-based physicians and 60% of hospitals, fueling many successful software start-ups, such as ZocDoc, Health Catalyst, and Practice Fusion.

  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that an enormous amount of data on cost and quality be made freely available. In addition, digital health applications, mobile phones, and wearable sensors, as well as breakthroughs in genomics, are creating truly big data sets in health care. These data contribute to greater market efficiency, more consumer-oriented products and services, and clinical care that is evidence-based and personalized.

  • The ACA has led to a proliferation of risk-based (rather than fee-for-service) payment models. For example, providers in accountable care organizations are rewarded for generating annual savings, and providers who use bundled payments get a fixed budget for an end-to-end course of treatment. Effectively responding to these changing economic incentives will increase reliance on software that helps providers manage population risk, understand costs and trends, and engage patients.

These macro-level developments set the stage for other SaaS companies to follow Athenahealth’s lead in enormously improving labor productivity and quality of care.

Within the next decade, software tools will eliminate thousands, perhaps millions, of jobs in hospitals, insurance companies, insurance brokerages, and human resources departments. Not the jobs of people who actually provide care — but those of administrative middlemen, whose dead weight contributes to economic loss. Here are five examples:

  1. Digital insurance markets, combined with ACA-enacted regulatory changes such as guaranteed issue and community rating, make it possible to price and sell health plans to anyone immediately. These developments will decimate the armies of brokers who act as intermediaries between customers and insurance services.

  1. Price transparency, digital insurance products, and tools such as reference pricing make it possible to generate an exact price and instantly collect payment for a health care service. As a result, revenue cycle managers in hospitals and claims adjudicators in insurance companies will be displaced.

  1. The inevitable shift to the cloud will render obsolete the costly, insecure data centers that most doctors and hospitals are now building, staffing, and running.

  1. Adopting self-serve mobile applications will eliminate the forms, faxes, and excess staffing at many call centers, thereby improving satisfaction for everyone in the process.

  1. Centralized clearinghouses that share information across organizations and state lines will eventually replace the byzantine, paper-based process of credentialing doctors, tracking continuing medical education, and keeping licenses up-to-date. That means smaller staffs in hospitals’ medical affairs divisions, health plans, medical boards, and state and local health departments.

Given that wages account for 56% of all health care spending, improvements in labor productivity could generate enormous value. Simply reducing administrative costs could yield an estimated $250 billion in savings per year.

As compelling as the prospective labor efficiencies are, the benefits of SaaS extend beyond direct labor costs. Easier access to data on physician quality, specialization, and adherence to evidence-based care will better match patients with doctors who provide high-quality, efficient services, thereby averting health complications for their patients. Moreover, software can help bring relevant clinical guidelines and personalized risk scores to patients and clinicians as they improve care plans, engage in shared decision making, and avoid duplicative services. Such efficiencies will, in turn, enhance how patients perceive and experience the care they receive. SaaS companies can trumpet all of these advantages, not just the employment savings they yield.

To seize on the new opportunities in the health care sector, SaaS companies can take these steps:

  • Attack economic inefficiencies in order to generate immediate, tangible customer return on investment. Witness how Castlight Health’s transparency tools are generating annual savings for employers and employees. And be clear about the source of the ROI, given that in most cases the revenue comes from another health care stakeholder who may be able to undermine the business.

  • Focus on building in network effects so that improvements made by one user enhance the product’s value for current and future users, just as Athenahealth does when it rapidly disseminates changes in payment rules at one provider to all other providers. Most SaaS businesses in health care IT cannot protect their intellectual property; so it is important to continually augment the value of the product to achieve scale.

  • Use software-enabled service models, rather than pure SaaS. For example, Grand Rounds’ software not only recommends an expert doctor for a patient but also collects, organizes, digitizes, and summarizes the patient’s records — and then books the appointment for the patient. In effect, the software makes it easier for patients to adhere to high-quality, cost-effective care, thereby enhancing the overall ROI for the product.

It took Athenahealth a decade, from 1997 to 2007, to go public on the strength of its SaaS model. It took Castlight Health only six years, from 2008 to 2014, to do the same. Now an array of highly valued healthcare SaaS companies, each worth more than $100 million, is emerging. They include Zenefits, Grand Rounds, Doctor on Demand, Omada Health, Health Catalyst, Doximity, and Evolent Health. Indeed, Zenefits is one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies ever, regardless of industry, surpassing $500 million in enterprise value in its first year.

The success of SaaS companies in health care is thanks, in part, to an influx of leaders from other sectors. They bring with them teams of technical talent that deliver consumer and enterprise software faster, better, and more cheaply than many legacy health care IT companies can do. Witness ZocDoc, founded by first-time entrepreneurs from McKinsey; Grand Rounds, founded by Owen Tripp, who cofounded; Zenefits, founded by Parker Conrad, who cofounded SigFig; and Doctor on Demand, founded by Adam Jackson, who cofounded Driverside (just to name a few). This type of cross-pollination is an essential ingredient of innovative change.

The barriers between health care IT companies and IT in other industries are clearly coming down, and we expect the number of sector disruptions and billion-dollar companies to swell. As each innovation wave generates more data, disruption-cycle times will shorten, thereby forcing all players in the health care ecosystem to address inefficiency as they compete on quality and value creation. Those who fail to act will be washed away by the tide that lifts all other boats to greater productivity.

via Why So Many New Tech Companies Are Getting into Health Care.

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Why So Many New Tech Companies Are Getting into Health Care

Retailers" Secret Weapon Lies In Their IT Department

In today’s world, customers are looking for an experience that streamlines the shopping process and caters to their needs. In fact, the quality of their shopping experience is playing a larger role than ever when it comes to making purchasing decisions.

A 2014 study by TimeTrade, for instance, indicated that 90 percent of shoppers leave a store empty-handed if they don’t get the help they need – while 86 percent of those very same shoppers would buy more than planned if they got that help, and 90 percent would be more likely to return to the same store again. In other words, retailers who effectively and efficiently guide customers through the buying process will win sales and customer loyalty.

Today’s technology increasingly plays a role in customer satisfaction. It streamlines the process and makes new forms of customer interaction possible. In fact, as technology begins dominating the landscape, retailers who fail to embrace it will find it hard to compete. And it has positioned IT managers and specialists as vital players in retail strategies.

IT managers must find and coordinate teams of people with different specialties to ensure tech operations run smoothly in the store. Tech systems are growing increasingly complex, often requiring people with different skills and backgrounds, changing the hiring needs of most retailers.

“[IT specialists] have always been important, but with the evolution of technology, just from a home use to a people perspective, companies are looking more and more toward IT to gain a competitive edge,” says Ed Smith, an IT specialist and VP and CEO of Abt Electronics, a Chicago-area electronics superstore which is known for its cutting edge use of IT in a retail environment.

“[Retail IT] is our DNA” he says.

The IT factor

A single store might need someone who specializes in mobile development, another who specializes in supply chain implementation, and another who focuses on analytics or on a real-time data and memory platform. A manager coordinates these efforts so they can actually produce useful results and coordinate actual programs and strategies with a high ROI.

Selling products online and making them available in-store for pickup has made the buying process easier for customers – and it also can save valuable space and resources for the retailer. And the use of beacon technology, such as Samsung’s newly introduced Proximity, enables retailers to reach customers like never before. Beacon technology is a location-based service that allows retailers to provide in-store offers to consumers and can even provide customers with floor plans of a mall. For customers, it’s convenient and appealing, and for retailers it provides a streamlined way to create and manage marketing campaigns.

Another key use of technology that every retailer should consider is making product information and branding available in-store. This may mean using video screens to display product detail, but there are other options. Providing free Wi-Fi is a simple, affordable and extremely powerful one. Shoppers with smart phones and tablets can simply connect to Wi-Fi and research products, or even find sales tailored to their personal interests and purchase history.

Some stores – like Smith’s Abt – equip their staff with tablets or smartphones so that they’re ready to answer any customer question with the click of a button.

Ben Davis is an IT consultant with the British firm Econsultancy, which specializes in using technology to bring together online and offline retail strategies. He notes that while many retailers overemphasize integrating social media into the store environment, mobile technology can be extremely powerful. Giving price comparisons, sales alerts and product information can guide customers through the purchase process. It can also help develop strong customer-retailer relationships while providing retailers with valuable data and analytics.

All of these projects require teams of people with different specialties – mobile technology, programming, analytics – to succeed. Retail managers’ coordination efforts make this possible. These can facilitate every step of the selling process – from stocking stores to attracting customers and driving sales.

“Multichannel customers are worth more than offline- or online-only ones,” says Davis. “It pays to implement tech that allows operational improvement – not just a flashy experience for the customer.”


via Retailers’ Secret Weapon Lies In Their IT Department.

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Retailers" Secret Weapon Lies In Their IT Department