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Microsoft’s new business apps make customer management easier

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Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. Photo courtesy Le Web (cc-by)
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. Photo courtesy Le Web (cc-by)
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Microsoft has announced three new apps to help small businesses find and engage with customers.

The products are part of its Office 365 cloud subscription service. The apps let users advertise online, manage email campaigns and send invoices.

Microsoft Listings, Microsoft Connections and Microsoft Invoicing were unveiled during the company’s Inspire partner. They followed the introduction of Microsoft 365, a new all-in-one subscription service that bundles Windows 10 Enterprise and Office 365 into a single monthly fee.

While Microsoft 365 primarily targets larger companies, Listings, Connections and Invoicing are apps better suited to smaller firms. They’re part of Office 365 Business Premium and you don’t need the new Microsoft 365 to access them. Microsoft said the services are meant to help you “win customers and manage your business.”

Listings

Listings helps you publish your business information to multiple sources online. You can simultaneously update your details on Facebook, Google, Bing and Yelp, saving you the time of individually altering each outlet.

Using the single Listings dashboard, you can monitor website pageviews, ratings and reviews across all the supported services. If you need to make a change, updating your information on the dashboard will push the modification out to all your linked accounts. Listings is meant to let you promote your brand to prospective customers without having to leave Microsoft’s platform.

Connections

If Listings is about gaining customers, Connections is built to help you retain them. It integrates a fully-featured email marketing tool into Office 365. Microsoft provides a set of templates you can use to craft email newsletters and promotional campaigns. Connections comes with tools to let subscribers remove themselves from a list. It also offers detailed built-in analytics capabilities.

Invoicing

Invoicing simplifies the generation of invoices for your company. It can automatically create you an invoice based on one of several included templates. You can view all your invoices from the Office 365 dashboard, letting you check up on clients who have outstanding bills.

The app integrates with PayPal so customers can send you money using their card without you having to do any work yourself. You can also link Invoicing to QuickBooks if you need to transfer invoicing details to an accountant.

Office 365 Business Center

The three new apps are a clear attempt by Microsoft to reinforce the value of Office 365 to small and medium-sized businesses. They address some of the most common issues emerging businesses face on a regular basis, offering solutions to pain points at every step of the customer procurement process.

The apps are also a strong move against established independent providers. Connections aims to eliminate the role of dedicated email campaign apps while Invoicing seeks to win over customers of Freshbooks.

Like the rest of Office 365, all the apps sell each other. You can access the entire platform with one subscription, making it more likely you’ll cancel plans with other providers. Microsoft is adding yet more value to Office 365, making it more likely businesses will sign up and become trapped in its ecosystem.

Listings, Connections and Invoicing are rolling out now in preview form to Office 365 Business Premium Subscribers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. They’ll launch widely later this year. Microsoft is also debuting a new Office 365 Business Center, a centralized dashboard that surfaces the new apps and existing business tools.

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Addressing cybercrime with passwordless authentication

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Cybercrime costs the global economy $2.9 million every minute, according to a RiskIQ report titled The Evil Internet Minute, adding up to $1.5 trillion in a year.

The cause? 80% of attacks are password-related issues.

Just think: How many times have you been prompted to change your password by your bank or email company? How many times have you heard the term “data breach” in the news? How many accounts do you have that require two-step authentication? How many passwords do you have, scattered across various accounts?

PINs, passwords, security questions are a daily part of our lives, but it’s typically nothing more than a hassle when we have to change them. For larger organizations, however, costs add up. Estimates show that nearly 50 percent of IT help desk costs are allocated to password resets.

Enter: Passwordless authentication — harnessing the power of technologies like AI and Machine Learning to save time and money.  

Cyber security is high on the World Economic Forum’s agenda, and in collaboration with open industry association FIDO Alliance, WEF’s whitepaper Passwordless Authentication The next breakthrough in secure digital transformation presents a framework for future authentication systems, illustrating five key passwordless technologies organizations can implement.

As part of Davos 2020, the paper — featuring lead authors Andrew Shikiar (Executive Director and Chief Marketing Officer, FIDO Alliance) and Adrien Ogee (Project Lead, Platform for Shaping the Future of Cybersecurity and Digital Trust, World Economic Forum) — outlines that “passwords are indeed at the heart of the data breach problem,” and presents facial biometric technology, hardware keys, and even QR codes and behavioural analysis as the future of passwordless authentication. 

“While company adoption of platform businesses is increasingly driving business valuation and growth, the problem of digital trust is growing equally fast and eroding confidence across online communities,” explains the introduction.

“Security enhancement is a continuous process, there is no magic bullet. Cyber criminals will adapt and develop new means of attack, but the alternative authentication mechanisms presented here provide greater challenge to them and greater security in the foreseeable future.”

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How BMO branch technology saves employees up to 30 minutes per day

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When it comes to banking, it comes as little surprise that customers are increasingly preferring tellerless interactions. 

A recent customer insight report from Mercator Advisory Group found that those who don’t like using mobile and online banking prefer to use self-service kiosks at physical branch locations.

Even back in 2015, a study by Source Technologies found that self-service retail banking kiosks improve operations, “reducing the time it takes to get an official check from nine minutes (using a teller) to 40 seconds – 13.5 times faster than a teller-conducted transaction.”

When banks invest in features like remote authentication and mobile deposits, it isn’t just customers who benefit — staff are able to better focus on more complex transactions, and developing relationships with clients.

“We see that more and more of our customers are migrating toward self-serve interactions, especially for the simpler, straightforward transactions,” explained Kyle Barnett, BMO’s chief operating officer for US personal and business banking, in an interview with PYMNTS. 

One of technologies implemented by BMO was a faster, real-time process for scanning and depositing cheques, saving customers from having to fill out a paper deposit slip. This has led to deposits clearing within hours instead of days. 

Another BMO implementation was its easy PIN authentication; instead of using a driver’s licenses or state-issued ID, customers use debit cards to verify their identities. The transaction is therefore accelerated, and data is aggregated instantly on the teller’s screen.

Both of these improvements were implemented in more than 500 branches by the end of 2019.

“If a customer walks in and opens up an account [during the] same interaction, they can actually leave with a fully functioning, embossed card that has their name on it,” Barnett said. 

And unlike before, when a customer was issued a temporary card and had to wait for the fully-functioning replacement to arrive in the mail, “they also get the PIN right there as part of the account opening, and can even set up a custom PIN if they want at the ATM.”

With the in-branch experience changing, and customers requiring fewer interactions with tellers, the result has been “really freeing up our branch bankers to have more time to dedicate to customers, and have better holistic conversations, and create more personalized recommendations.” 

One case study found that employees have saved between 15 and 30 minutes per day on processing forms. Multiply that by the number of employees within BMO, and you get a major win for efficiency and time saving. 

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How to accelerate business change using data and AI

AI poses as many challenges as opportunities. Here are a few common characteristics we’ve seen among businesses that have realized success with data and AI.

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By Bret Greenstein

Most senior leaders would agree that adapting in real time to customer and market needs is vital for achieving their visions and goals. And to develop this capability, they’d also likely agree they need data and artificial intelligence (AI).

The examples are all around us. The city of Chicago uses 12 variables, including high daily temperatures, to prioritize which of the city’s 7,000 “high-risk” restaurants it should send its 35 food inspectors to. The AI solution found violations a week earlier than they otherwise would have.

We helped an insurer create an AI system that provides underwriters with more precise estimates of risk, as well as the likelihood applicants will accept a specific price quote. The insurer can adjust how the AI environment makes its approval and pricing recommendations to ensure compliance with changing corporate priorities around risk vs. revenue.

We’ve also seen AI help predict customers’ emerging needs as markets change. If the economy goes into a recession, informed analysis could help organizations not only cut costs but also provide the products and services customers might need in a downturn.

And, of course, there are the businesses that have used data and AI to create new revenue streams and business models that drive lasting competitive advantage. For game changers like Uber, data is at the core of the company and constitutes value, not cost.

Facing up to AI realities

But there’s another hard fact that would draw consensus from many business leaders today: the unprecedented effort required to move an enterprise in an AI direction. The fact is, AI-enabled business change requires as much alteration to corporate culture, organizational structures and processes, and workforce roles and skills as it does new technology.

For example, too many organizations still treat data as an expense and a security risk. Technical or organizational siloes make it difficult to pool information in flexible data lakes. Many businesses also lack the skills to manage AI-enabled analytics amid rising privacy and ethical concerns. Others are unable to provide audit trails on how AI decisions were made or deliver AI-enabled analytics quickly enough.

AI success factors

Here are a few common characteristics we’ve seen among businesses that have realized success with data and AI:

  • Senior leadership is passionate about the value of data. CIOs can play a big role here. They need to work with the CEO and business leaders to resolve the tension between business managers who want more access to data and the pressure to restrict such access to reduce cost and risk.
  • Data scientists embedded with business users. By working more closely with business users, data scientists can better understand the business context behind their requests. Business managers may say they need “X,” but what they really need is a solution to a problem, which may or may not be “X.”
  • The establishment of an AI oversight role. Because AI systems learn and improve, they can produce different results at different times based on the data they’re given and the algorithms applied. This means they require closer oversight than traditional systems that are coded, tested and summarily released – and then left alone.In some ways, managing an AI system is like raising a child. You need to be sure they’re not being trained with intentionally or unintentionally biased data or by malicious users. If a loan application is denied, for example, you need to know the decision was ethically sound.
  • Plenty of high-quality data. The more high-quality data, the better and more quickly the AI system can learn. To supply that data, organizations must refine their processes for ongoing data preparation, integration and pipelining. This essential groundwork is the hardest part in building an AI system.
  • Modernized infrastructure. An infrastructure based on application programming interfaces (APIs) and Agile development techniques makes it easier to quickly deliver new AI-based applications. This more flexible infrastructure enables organizations to better access needed data from outside the enterprise, and more effectively monetize the resulting insights by sharing them across the ecosystem.For instance, we worked with one of the world’s largest and busiest airports to revamp its technology infrastructure to increase airport efficiency and performance. The organization combined data and AI to unlock more capacity to serve airlines and reduce passenger misconnects.

Our final recommendation: Start now. AI can be difficult and complex, and it’s hard to catch up once you’ve fallen behind. Even modest successes will teach you a lot, and the real danger in digital is being a laggard.

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