Tag Archives: technology

At the heart of the CIO’s agenda: Business analytics is the stand-out technology investment in 2017

The recently published “State of IT” 2017 annual survey by Salesforce reveals that IT in industry is experiencing the biggest historical shift of its role to date, from a straightforward cost centre to a service delivering value and innovation, the “central nervous system” of modern business, “partnering with departments to orchestrate experiences with connected data sources and new capabilities”.

With this has come a significant change in the role of the Chief information officer (CIO). No longer just there to keep the lights on, the CIO is increasingly at the heart of the enterprise providing more customer-focused business analytics. Vala Afshar, Salesforce Chief Digital Evangelist, writes that “to be successful, modern CIOs must abandon their tendencies toward control and adopt an outlook that is more collaborative and customer-centric than ever.” There is evidence already that this attitude is becoming commonplace, with 61% of IT leaders saying that providing a single view of the customer is a high priority over the next 12–18 months.

Despite this shift, there remains an uncomfortable mismatch between business strategy and expectations, as CIO priorities are evolving rapidly but traditional views of the CIO as chiefly an operational role are yet to be shrugged off. The Salesforce survey found that 77% of IT leaders now view IT as an extension/partner of business units rather than a separate function. Yet a CIO survey by Deloitte’s found that while 78% of the CIOs polled said that strategic alignment on IT was essential to their success, only 36% ranked their organisation as “excellent” or “leading” in this capability.

A look at IT distribution
Like the business CIO, technology distributors worldwide are intent on making analytics a key area of investment. GTDC’s recently published report, “Insights into 2017 – Channel Executives and distribution leaders share their partner perspectives”, considered analytics as a key focus for distributors. Far from being a new area, analytics in 2017 promises distributors further innovation, incremental revenue and profit potential through the development of complex business intelligence (BI) solutions. As one Distribution executive put it:

“We’re using Analytics to identify opportunities for our business partners. For example, bringing new products to partners. We continually do an analysis of customers for the last two years. We have to move faster in investing in some next-generation areas and help our partners learn how to monetize these new opportunities. That’s really key for us.” — Miriam Murphy, Senior Vice President, North Region EMEA, Avnet TS.

Key questions for CONTEXT’s upcoming Channel Research Group
CONTEXT will be exploring the role of BI and analytics in the inaugural meeting of its Channel Research Group on May 30th in London, UK, asking the following questions to its Distribution, Reseller and Vendor partners:

  • What kind of opportunity is BI/Analytics to your business?
  • Has your company benefited from BI/Analytics information provided by a 3rd party?
  • How are you currently investing in BI? Is this for your own business or to help your partners develop BI solutions in their business?

For more information on CONTEXT’s Channel Research Group, please contact us!

by CS

 

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Filed under Enterprise IT, IT Distribution, Market Analysis

Don’t dismiss the Printer

I wondered why IT sales are doing so well, despite these extraordinary, uncertain times with Brexit, growing isolationism across the rest of Europe and insults thrown between Trump and Korea. According to the latest figures from the CONTEXT Distribution panel, revenues are up in the Eurozone by 6.7% compared to last year, with the UK steaming ahead with revenue growth of nearly 13%.

My colleagues are often blogging about the exciting new or “interesting” products that start to appear in our sales data – wearable devices, 3D printers, games consoles, mobile phones. Printers, on the other hand, can sometimes be overlooked but this is a market not to be ignored. In fact, in Germany, which represents around 20% of all revenues we pick up from the Distribution channel for IT products, Printing Consumables is ranked 2nd, behind only mobile computing. A similar picture emerges for France and the UK.

So, what is impacting the print market at the moment? We notice, particularly in the UK, workplaces transforming as millennials are looking beyond the traditional office. Working from home is increasing motivation and productivity and new technology is changing the way we work. Vendors are faced with new opportunities, and are rising to the challenge of how to best support the customers’ needs, be it savings on print costs, digitization, unified platforms – essentially, solutions for wherever your ‘office’ is at this precise moment.

Each quarter, the shift is moving from single to multi-function printers. We demand more from a printer than just printing. Unit sales of Inkjet and Laser multi-function printers grew around 6% in Q1 this year and now account for around 70% of all printers sold in Western Europe.

Inkjets are marking their return in the B2B sector with consistent double digit revenue growth of both the consumer and the business inkjets since Q2 2016. With more emphasis on lower print costs for businesses, vendors, particularly Epson and HP, are moving further into the higher price bands with revenues for business inkjets over Euro 400 growing by 37% year-on-year in Q1 2017. Business inkjets now account for almost 40% of all printer revenue in the SMB channel.

Finally, we’re also seeing a return in consumer confidence in some of the countries that have been struggling in the last couple of years. Spain has demonstrated an overall growth year-on-year of 16% in the print market, with a 12% growth in IT sales overall.

So, World disorder? I guess so, but business goes on and the printer market is still alive and well.

by DC

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B2B – a risk for the channel or a missed opportunity for tech retailers?

The recent news about Amazon launching its B2B activity in Europe, starting in Germany, has generated a lot of press coverage. In the US it is reported that in the last two years the number of business customers shopping at Amazon has increased from 200,000 to 400,000, so resellers in Europe are concerned. “Amazon’s B2B challenge is a danger for the Channel,” was the headline on CRN UK’s front page.

So is this news a risk to the channel or in fact a missed opportunity for retailers?

Three years ago CONTEXT ran a conference which highlighted the opportunity of what we named “R2B” short for “Retail-to-Business”. Many retailers from across Europe attended this conference, but very few had the real commitment to make it happen. So will the news of Amazon’s arrival in this space make them wonder if they missed an opportunity? Surely if Amazon, with no stores, no experience of providing human-to-human customer service, and no expertise in business IT, can go for this sector, then the tech retailers can do so also.

Successful retailers in B2B are those who have invested in a service capability. Best Buy and the Geek Squad, DixonsCarphone and Knowhow, the Darty van with “le contrat de confiance” emblazoned on it – these are the retailers that have invested in service. Sebastian James, CEO of DixonsCarphone, said at Retail Week Live in March 2015 “if we don’t invest in the whole chain we risk to become irrelevant”. Some etailers have also managed to create a space in this area – an example is LDLC in France which has set up a nationwide network of resellers who help their business customers to install and maintain their IT equipment.

If a retailer is keen to take on Amazon in the B2B area here are the 5 key steps to follow:

  1. Identification and targeting of business customers through the use of CRM and intelligent sales activity – for example, every time a customer asks for a VAT invoice, this is a sure sign that they are a business; or when they purchase more than 2 of any machine, this should be a sign. Human interaction with the customer is important, as well as the posing of key questions online. On Staples website, the very first action is to identify yourself as a business or as a normal customer
  2. Curation of business SKU’s – with the support of vendors, retail is a way of targeting incremental sales from small businesses of less than 25 seats. But it is necessary to have the right products, which are not always made available to retailers. You can buy a Lenovo Thinkpad for a B2B customer on PCWorldbusinessonline, at Amazon.co.uk, at LDLC but not at Fnac, Darty, El Corte Ingles or even Media Saturn.
  3. Category management to drive out the optimal product mix – the business SKU is part of an ecosystem – understanding the upselling opportunities to meet the full needs of the business customer is a key element of success. R2B market data is a vital support for retailers by showing top selling products and typical market baskets.
  4. Service at every stage – the business customer needs service in store, online, at the point of installation and support in maintaining equipment in a functioning state. This is the most demanding element of the proposition in terms of investment. Recently, I asked the CEO of a retailer in the Middle East if he was concerned about Amazon’s purchase of Souk.com, and he said “No! We will differentiate ourselves through our service offering.”
  5. Financing of small businesses – this is a key activity which helps SMB to survive and grow. Healthy credit terms and even loans help small and medium businesses to expand without fear of cashflow shortage.

It is not too late for retailers to enter into this space, and capture a market which is at risk from the ever-innovative and expanding Leviathan which is Amazon.

by AS

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Filed under IT Distribution, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT

3D Printing running shoes: Why the adidas announcement is different!

This month the German footwear brand adidas announced a partnership with 3D Printer start-up Carbon for their Futurecraft 4D program, a new initiative to leverage 3D Printing to make running shoe midsoles. Last year, when first announcing their new Multi Jet Fusion 3D Printing process, HP also announced a partnership with a footwear company (Nike). The past few years have also seen various announcements from New Balance, Under Armour and a host of others. Prior to this announcement from adidas however, most companies touted their use of 3D Printing as a technology to accelerate prototyping or as an “experimental” technology, essentially just beginning to uncover what 3D Printing might be able to do for them. This announcement from adidas takes the industry one step further in that it indicates that it will begin to use the unique Carbon 3D Printing technology (and material) to produce the running soles for its new line by firstly making 5,000 pair this year and then 100,000 pair by next year.

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This hits at the heart of the next hurdle for the 3D Printing industry, moving away from just prototyping and cracking more into gargantuan manufacturing industry. 3D printing excels in the production of complex parts, in one-off production, in on-demand and in “mass customization” (think hearing aids and invisible orthodontia braces both of which have been made using 3D Printing for a long time). 3D Printing has not been able to compete against tried-and-true manufacturing techniques like injection-moulding (or “molding” as I spell it) for producing say millions of smartphone cases or office chairs (and maybe never will) but for lower volume production it is now starting to make inroads into mass production.

Carbon’s CLIP 3D Printing technology is a twist on one of the original 3D Printing technologies (there are at least 7 core technologies) and is relatively new to the market. The general technology uses a laser or light source to harden a liquid polymer (plastic) resin material layer-by-layer to build a part from the ground-up (or top down sometimes). The twist on this age old technology (technically called Vat Photopolymerization) is that the Carbon printer allows for this process to be sped up considerably and allows for new materials to be used. While adidas and Carbon noted the longer term intention of offering specialized soles for each purchaser (harkening to the “mass customization” abilities of 3D Printing), what is actually more newsworthy is the mass production aspect of the partnership. As Carbon and others speed up the 3D printing process, this is BIG news in the 3D Printing industry which is definitely looking for a spark to help it move into its next phase of evolution, mass-production.

In the sub-segment of metal 3D Printing (which uses totally different techniques), great progress has already been made moving that side of the industry into production (highlighted and validated most recently by GE’s continued progress in the space) but on the Plastics side of the industry, most printers are still used principally for prototyping (or mass customization and the like as noted above). If adidas and Carbon can fulfill on their promise of producing 100,000 running shoe soles next year economically, then indeed the market will we well on its way from evolving from the $5B industry it is today into a $17B industry in the next 5 years.

by CC

 

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CeBIT 2017 Points the Way to VR and Smart Device Growth

With 200,000 participants flocking to Hanover this year, the week-long CeBIT show can be an intimidating prospect. Over 3,000 exhibitors set up shop at the world’s biggest technology expo. And while this is not a show for big name product launches, it still provides a very useful snapshot of what’s hot in the tech industry from one year to the next.

This year, as we predicted, there was plenty of buzz around smart devices, the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality (VR)/ Augmented Reality (AR). These, after all, will be the technologies that in years to come delight consumers and power the next generation of European businesses.

VR/AR catches the eye
CeBIT 2017 had a bigger focus on VR/AR than ever before, highlighting the growing maturity of this burgeoning technology. If you were in any doubt of the scale of interest in this space, half of Hall 17 – one of the show’s aircraft hangar-sized expo spaces – was devoted entirely to firms exhibiting VR-related tech. As we predicted at the end of 2016, gaming will continue to drive forward interest in VR on the consumer side. But, as evidenced by its exposure at the business-centric CeBIT show, more and more companies are exploring corporate applications.

Examples included the “Virtofy” VR presentation system, which offers companies an opportunity to demo products and showcase projects to prospective clients/customers. Another interesting use case developed by engineers at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences incorporates integrated data goggles into the helmets worn by steel workers – designed to flash up safety warnings and the like.

In Hall 2 Intel, in cooperation with Microsoft, presented the dataflow the companies expect in the near future. Based on the BMW i8, Intel presented with the Microsoft AR Hololens how cameras and sensors scan the environment of a future car in order to drive autonomously. Intel predicts that approximately 4000 GB of data will be tracked, processed and uploaded from cars in the future, which creates brand new business scenarios in this market.

IoT everywhere
As we mentioned in December, the Smart Home market is really heating up, with Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft set to battle it out for hearts and minds in 2017 and beyond. True to form, the Internet of Things formed a major part of CeBIT 2017, with over 270 exhibitors from 29 countries participating. The IoT also had its own spin-off summit at the conference – a first for the organisers and again illustrative of the growing interest in smart products.

The IoT, of course, extends far beyond the smart home. In fact, attendees were treated to demos of everything from smart shirts and dog collars from Telefonica Deutschland, to Toshiba’s industrial applications for the energy sector.

Drones are taking off
The smart device revolution also increasingly extends up into the sky. As evidenced by the buzz at CeBIT, drones are fast carving out an IoT niche of their own. A large outdoor area sponsored by Intel drew many of the crowds, with much attention drawn to the bright orange H520 hexacopter from Chinese firm Yuneec. When combined with an on-board camera and Intel RealSense tech, it’s able to detect movements and distances like the human eye – enabling it to avoid obstacles in flight.

The Drone Park even drew the interest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

by AD

 

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, gaming, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology, virtual reality, Wearables

How PC Gaming Is Driving AI, Cars, and the UK Treasury’s Technology Policy

At CES 2017 back in January, Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia announced that “GPU-powered deep learning is driving the ability for computers to perceive the world… But one day, AI researchers met the GPU and the big bang of AI occurred.” Up until more recently, when most ICT analysts thought of Nvidia, the first thing to come to mind would have been gaming, and for a good reason. The core of Nvidia’s business is still PC Gaming where they continue to dominate the GFX hardware market. Jen-Hsun went on to explain that the “GPU had the benefit of being fuelled by the largest entertainment industry in the world, video games.” Indeed, PC gaming is one of the most processing-intensive activities a PC can be asked to perform, and that industry has gone from strength to strength over the past few years. Jen-Hsun was right to tout the success of PC gaming: CONTEXT’s data shows that sales of high-end VR-ready PCs shot up 1057% in terms of revenue y/y for the top 6 EU economies in Q4 2016, and figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association put gaming as contributing more to the UK economy in 2016 than either music or video sales at £2.96bn.

Several thousand miles away from Sin City, the importance of AI and driverless cars was being carefully noted by strategists and civil servants in Whitehall, culminating in the most recent budget announcement. The British government has promised £270m in funding for disruptive technologies such as driverless cars, AI, and robotics. Given the current hard-Brexit policies being pursued by Teresa May’s administration they are wise to support such green shoots; CONTEXT’s figures for professional GPUs back both this decision and Jen-Hsun’s assertion. Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 13.21.25Sales of professional GPUs in the UK reversed a previous decline in Q3 2016, with Nvidia’s own Quadro series of GFX cards enjoying +25% y/y growth in revenue. More and more GPUs are being purchased to power deep learning and AI for large datacentres, rather than in their more traditional roles for 3D modelling and computer aided design.

It’s not uncommon for devices to be developed with one purpose in mind then being very successfully appropriated for another. Even Atari’s failed Jaguar gaming console ended up being cannibalised and used in dental equipment. The GPU is also the critical lynchpin of another emerging technology: Virtual Reality. In one profound statement, Jen-Hsun declared that “…all gaming was Virtual Reality,” and in many cases this rings true where a player inhabits a virtual world. It might not seem immediately obvious, but components built for PC gaming now power both AI and VR. As a result Nvidia’s share price has soared in recent months, finishing 2016 +224% up from the previous year, and promising to continue to rise as their partnerships and new ventures bear fruit, with professional visualization growing +11%, datacentre at +144% and automotive up +52% for Q4 2016.

This success eventually caused Nvidia’s shares to drop in February when the Q4 results were released as investors weighed up the risks of long-term returns (as driverless cars are still many years away from being commonplace), versus selling stock at an apex. To some extent, the UK government is taking a gamble on driverless cars becoming the norm, and this might reflect the modest £270 sum compared with much higher investment promised by other governments. Academic commentators have also welcomed this news due to the environmental benefits promised by AI-driven vehicles. The immediate future of AI and its importance to the UK economy is very encouraging, but much like Brexit, the longer-term outlook is beyond the most complex algorithm to accurately portend.

by JW

 

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Filed under Big data, Connectivity, gaming, IoT, Mobile technology, Smart Technology

Why isn’t IT market intelligence obsessed with optimising the multibillion-dollar mature industries?

I’ll level with you, I‘m confused.

When I look at recent premier IT events such as Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona and CES in Las Vegas, I see an industry that is almost entirely focused on the future. Obviously, technology players want to accelerate innovation – the event programme at this year’s MWC for example includes a session called the “4th Industrial Revolution”.

But what about optimising the performance of the mature €650 billion[1] European IT market? Compare the MWC and CES programmes with the Consumer Goods Forum, the premier gathering of the food and drink sector, at €1,048 billion[2] making it the largest manufacturing industry in Europe, and you’ll see a programme in which innovation is there, but sitting alongside good stewardship of their well-established sectors.

In a mature industry, performance parameters are well known, top line growth is small, big players that can’t keep up get acquired by nimbler competitors, and optimisation is key. As well as innovating in emerging technologies, the IT industry should be innovating in its core businesses to optimise performance in the mature sectors. One example – in an area I know well – is how companies see the role of sales tracking in the new world of established technologies, grown up now after 30 years. The over-complication of market intelligence (MI) offerings here is causing a raft of issues, and users of this data should be demanding better. To paraphrase a few people, I’ve heard:

“We are drowning in data, we just don’t know what to do with it …”

“We spend so much time compiling different sources that the real analytics come as a second thought”, and

“We don’t fully understand what each dataset actually represents, or how to act on it.”

In the IT sectors, this sentiment isn’t exclusive to vendors – it is shared in their channel by distribution and reseller partners –it being generally accepted that MI data is sub-par as delivered today.

This problem has been around for quite some time. In a previous role at one of the largest and oldest technology firms in the world, I worked with one of the most sophisticated MI solutions I’ve ever seen. “Well done them”, you might think. In reality, it wasn’t without strife. It took the company over three years to design and implement that solution and, to this day, it still requires many people across the globe to combine multiple data sources into ‘one version of the truth’. The company implemented this solution at the tail end of what was generally considered the ‘maturation’ of the PC industry. Any other company thinking of undertaking a similar task today in the printing, display, PC, or other flat or declining mature industry, would need to be resource-rich and highly committed to the cause.

Whilst it is imperative to stay abreast of shifts in consumer and business trends, managing the at-risk 1% of a multi-billion-dollar established industry is as important, if not more so in some cases, as getting established in multi-million-dollar upcoming categories. Indeed, the frustration voiced by the industry would suggest that this is the case. Is it possible that many participants in these mature-technology industries are struggling to monitor and protect their cash-generating business, and that this impacts their ability to invest in new technology in the future?

What is needed to fulfill the requirements of such companies? At CONTEXT, we are working with our customers and partners to address this issue, and have designed a number of new services that provide both broad and specific analyses of mature IT product categories. The key focus areas for this new breed of deliverables are reliability, cost-effectiveness and simple implementation, so that instead of drowning in data and wasting time trying to bring together multiple data sources, the user is able to integrate information easily into existing operations and spend time more productively in improving their business. In essence, that’s our aim at CONTEXT: to help our customers and partners Optimise Today, and Accelerate Tomorrow.

by TP

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[1] EITO Report Western Europe 2013/14

[2] Food Drink Europe 2014

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Filed under Enterprise IT, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, Networking, Retail