Watson Weekly: Hotel Flips on an IBM Robot

March 15, 2016

I think customer service at the hotels in which I have stayed is just wonderful. I recall a false fire alarm in Manhattan on a winter’s night, lice in a hotel in Clear Lake, Texas, and no heat after 9 pm in the modern Russian built hotel in February. People really cared about their guests.

Well, humans are not enough if the information in this write up is accurate. Navigate to “IBM Watson Powers Hilton Robot Concierge.” I learned:

A Hilton hotel in McLean, Virginia, has deployed a Watson-powered robot named Connie to help answer basic travel questions.

Wait, wait. No smart fire monitoring system, no automated disinfecting of rooms and bedding, and no smart HVAC?

Well, those are trivial problems.

The Hilton group, which I assume Paris monitors via social media, is

now being tested as an automated concierge at Hilton McLean in Virginia, can call upon various Watson APIs — Dialog, Speech to Text, Text to Speech, and Natural Language Classifier — and WayBlazer’s travel-specific knowledge to answer questions from Hilton guests about nearby attractions, dining options, and hotel services.

I know that using my smart phone is a real hassle. I definitely want to talk with Connie instead of relying on the Apple, Google, and Microsoft services.

Well, it turns out that

The job of concierge was rated “not computerizable” by a 2013 Oxford study titled “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization?” and given only a 21% chance of being automated in the next 20 years.

I think I was using my mobile devices to find restaurants, arrange for a car service, and looking up the local Apple store years ago. What do I know? Obviously my sense of history and how to use mobile devices is just what one expects from a person who lives in rural Kentucky.

Watson, when will Connie deal with bedbugs?

Stephen E Arnold, March 15, 2016

Search Vendors Will Thank Forrester for Its Views on Customer Support

March 11, 2016

I read “Your Customers Don’t Want To Call You For Support.” This is a free marketing write up from the good folks at the mid tier consulting outfit Forrester.

The write up is one answer to the struggle some search vendors have had. As you may know, selling proprietary search and retrieval systems is a slow go these days. Why not use an open source system as plumbing? That’s what IBM and Palantir have done. Shift the costs of the utility function’s maintenance and bug fixing to the “community.” Shift those resources from search to something which sells. For Palantir, Gotham and Metropolitan are moving. For IBM, well, that may be a poor example. The only “moving” at IBM involves the individuals terminated.

Moving on…

The Forrester write up makes clear that “your customers” don’t want to call you on the telephone. No kidding? Has anyone at Forrester tried to call Forrester without a number linked to a specific individual?

The search vendors are struggling to find a market which really needs their search system. The candidate many search firms are chasing is the person in charge of customer support. The reason is that no one in customer support wants to talk to customers.

Put the information on the Web and let the customers “search” for answers. Everyone will be happy. At least, that’s the pitch.

Forrester thinks that self service is the “low friction” way to deal with customers. Right. If there is no human who struggles to speak in an intelligible manner about a subject germane to the called, the support person will not experience some verbal excitement.

Forrester likes the chat thing. That’s a service which opens a box, introduces a delay, and then a message appears, “Hello, I am Ted. How may I help you?” My reaction is to click the close button. Sorry, Ted.

My hunch is that search vendors will print out copies of the Forrester article and use them as proof that a better search engine will create many happy customers.

If only life were that simple.

Stephen E Arnold, March 11, 2016

Critics Blast Zuckerbergs Free Internet

January 26, 2016

Mark Zuckerberg is giving the subcontinent India access to free Internet.  In some eyes Zuckerberg is being generous, but his critics are saying he’s doing it to gain control of a 1.2 billion untapped market.  The New York Post shares Zuckerberg’s magnanimous act in “Mark Zuckerberg Defends His Free Internet Bid In India.”

Zuckerberg’s free Internet in India is dubbed “Free Basics” and it offers full access to Facebook and other affiliated sites, while blocking access to Google, Twitter, and other rivals.  Free Basics’s partner Indian telecom partner Reliance Communication was forced to temporarily shut down service.

Critics are angry with Zuckerberg, claiming he is violating net neutrality and it comes as a slap in the face after he defended it within the United States.  Free Basics could potentially ruin Internet competition in India and gain an iron grasp on a developing market.  An even more intriguing piece to the story is that Free Basics was formerly named Internet.org, but Zuckerberg was forced to change it so new Internet users would not think that Facebook and related Web sites were all that existed.

“The local tech entrepreneur warned that ‘the incentive to invest in better, faster and cheaper access to the entire Internet will be replaced with one of providing better, faster and cheaper access to [Facebook’s] websites and apps’…In his Monday op-ed piece, Zuckerberg at times sounded exasperated as he insisted that the limited access provided by Free Basics was better than no access at all.”

Free Basics has already been deployed in thirty-five countries and provides free Internet for fifteen million people.

What’s the problem with wanting one’s way like blocking our competitors’ services? Absolutely nothing, if you rule the world. If not, there may be push back. I learned this in kindergarten.  Zuckerberg can expect lots of push back.


Whitney Grace, January 26, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Ebay Is Sold Structured Data

January 19, 2016

PayPal and eBay split in 2015 and many people thought it was a poor mistake on eBay’s part.  However, eBay has recouped any potential loses by record profits and more than 159 million sellers.  Channel Advisor explains that one of the reasons eBay has grown so much is due to its incorporation of structured data and its importance for organic search in the article, “eBay Moves Towards Structured Data-And Why It Matters.”

As an avid eBay buyer and seller, I have been impressed with the new changes in eBay’s demand for structured data.  In the past, if you wanted to find anything on eBay you had to go directly to the Web site and dig through results.  Sometimes you could find results on Google or another search engine, but these were usually cached auctions.  Since the switchover, eBay listings are prominent within Google’s search results.  What is even better is how accurate they are!

EBay has turned to structured data as a way to compete with Amazon.  While this is beneficial in the long run, it forces sellers to refocus their strategies.  The article gives some great tips on how to improve your listings for the best organic search effectiveness.  What eBay is demanding now is item specifics so items are placed in the right categories and also helps buyers make more informed decisions.  Product identifiers are now very important and mandatory in many categories.  These include item specifics such as UPCs, ISBNs, MPNs, GTINs, and more.  The goal with all this extra information is to increase visibility in Google and eBay search results.

“In addition to the above benefits, adding identifiers will give you:

  • The ability to match your item with a product from the more robust eBay catalogue
  • More accurate pricing guidance when you list your items
  • Trending price alerts — when your listings are priced lower than the trending price

EBay suggests adding identifiers even if they’re not yet required for your category – doing so will earn you an early competitive edge.”

EBay used to be the one-stop shopping destination online, but Amazon has quickly stolen that title from them.  With more detailed listings and visibility in Google, eBay is sure to win back customers.


Whitney Grace, January 19, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph



Big Data Shows Its Return on Investment

January 13, 2016

Big data was the word that buzzed through the IT community and made companies revaluate their data analytics and consider new ways to use structured and unstructured information to their benefit.  Business2Community shares how big data has affected companies in sixteen case studies: “16 Case Studies Of Companies Proving ROI Of Big Data.” One of the problems companies faced when implementing a big data plan was whether or not they would see a return on their investment.  Some companies saw an immediate return, but others are still scratching their heads.  Enough time has passed to see how various corporations in different industries have leaned.

Companies remain committed to implementing big data plans into their frameworks, most of what they want to derive from big data is how to use it effectively:

  • “91% of marketing leaders believe successful brands use customer data to drive business decisions (source: BRITE/NYAMA)
  • 87% agree capturing and sharing the right data is important to effectively measuring ROI in their own company (BRITE/NYAMA)
  • 86% of people are willing to pay more for a great customer experience with a brand (souce: Lunch Pail)”

General Electric uses big data to test their products’ efficiently and the crunch the analytics to increase productivity.  The Weather Channel analyzes its users behavior patterns along with climate data in individual areas to become an advertising warehouse.  The big retailer Wal-Mart had added machine learning, synonym mining, and text analysis to increase search result relevancy.  Semantic search has also increased online shopping by ten percent.

The article highlights many other big brand companies and how big data has become a boon for businesses looking to increase their customer relations, increase sales, and improve their services.


Whitney Grace, January 13, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

The Business World Is Not Prepared for a Cyber Attack

January 12, 2016

Cyber threats have been a concerning topics since computers became functional and daily tools for people.  The idea of a hacker brings up images of IT geeks sitting in a dark basement with their laptops and cracking top secret codes in a matter of keystrokes.  Hacking has turned from a limited crime to a huge international problem comparable to the mafia.  While hackers are interested in targeting individuals, the bolder thieves target big businesses.  News of Bahrain shares that “Biz Not Prepared For Cyber Threat,” translated from headline speech that means the business world would not withstand a cyber attack.

KPMG International released the 2015 KPMG CEO Outlook Study that found businesses are aware of risks associated with cyber attacks, but only forty-nine percent have prepared for one.  The study surveyed 1,200 CEOs and one out of five are concerned about cyber risks.  The concern has led many CEOs to take action with security measures and safety plans.

“ ‘The most innovative companies have recognized that cyber security is a customer experience, not just a risk that needs to be managed or a line item in the budget. In Bahrain, some firms are finding ways to turn cyber preparedness into a competitive advantage with customers, and they are using this as a differentiator.’ ”

Many companies that are attacked thought they were prepared for any threats, but they underestimated hackers’ intelligence, sophistication, and persistence.

Some of the companies with good cyber security are advertising their technical achievements to prevent attacks.  It is a desirable feature, especially as more information is housed on cloud storage and businesses need to be aware of potential threats.

Whitney Grace, January 12, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

New Credit Card Feature Prevents Fraud

December 28, 2015

December is lauded as the most wonderful time due to that warm, fuzzy feeling and also because retail chains across the world will be operating in the black at the end of the year.  Online shopping has shown record sales this year, especially since shoppers do not want to deal with crowds and limited stock.  Shopping online allows them to shop from the convenience of their homes, have items delivered to their front door, and find great deals.  Retail chains are not the only ones who love the holidays.  Cyber criminals also enjoy this season, because people are less concerned with their persona information.  Credit card and bank account numbers are tossed around without regard, creating ample game for identity theft.

While credit card companies have created more ways to protect consumers, such as the new microchip in cards, third party security companies have also created ways to protect consumers.  Tender Armor is a security company with a simple and brilliant fraud prevention solution.

On the back of every credit card is a security code that is meant to protect the consumer, but it has its drawbacks.  Tender Armor created a CVVPlus service that operates on the same principle as the security code, except of having the same code, it rotates on daily basis.  Without the daily code, the credit card is useless.  If a thief gets a hold of your personal information, Tender Armor’s CVVPlus immediately notifies you to take action.   It is ingenious in its simplicity.

Tender Armor made this informative animated to explain how CVVPlus works: Tender Armor: CVVPlus.

In order to use Tender Armor, you must pay for an additional service on your credit card.  With the increased risk in identity theft, it is worth the extra few bucks.


Whitney Grace, December 28, 2015
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Kmart Australia Faces Security Breach

November 30, 2015

Oracle’s Endeca and IBM’s Coremetrics were both caught up in a customer-data hack at Kmart Australia, we learn from “Customer Data Stolen in Kmart Australia Hack” at iTnews. Fortunately, it appears credit card numbers and other payment information were not compromised; just names, contact information, and purchase histories were snagged. It seems Kmart Australia’s choice to use a third party to process payments was a wise decision. The article states:

“The retailer uses ANZ Bank’s CyberSource payments gateway for credit card processing, and does not store the details internally. iTnews understands Kmart’s online ecommerce platform is built on IBM’s WebSphere Commerce software. The ecommerce solution also includes the Oracle Endeca enterprise data discovery platform and Coremetrics (also owned by IBM) digital marketing platform, iTnews understands.

The article goes on to report that Kmart Australia has created a new executive position, “head of online trading and customer experience.” Perhaps that choice will help the company avoid such problems in the future. It also notes that the retailer reported the breach voluntarily. Though such reporting is not yet mandatory in Australia, legislation to make it so is expected to be introduced before the end of the year.

Cynthia Murrell, November 30, 2015

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

CEM Platform Clarabridge 7 Supports Silo Elimination

November 10, 2015

The move to eliminate data silos in the corporation has gained another friend, we learn in Direct Marketing News’ piece, “Clarabridge Joins the Burn-Down-the-Silos Movement.” With their latest product release, the customer experience management firm hopes to speed their clients’ incorporation of business intelligence and feedback. The write-up announces:

“Clarabridge today released Clarabridge 7, joining the latest movement among marketing tech companies to speed actionability of data intelligence by burning down the corporate silos. The new release’s CX Studio promises to provide users a route to exploring the full customer journey in an intuitive manner. A new dashboard and authoring capability allows for “massive rollout,” in Clarabridge’s terms, across an entire enterprise.

“Also new are role-based dashboards that translate data in a manner relevant to specific roles, departments, and levels in an organization. The company claims that such personalization lets users take intelligence and feedback and put it immediately into action. CX Engagor expedites that by connecting business units directly with consumers in real time.”

We have to wonder whether this rush to “burn the silos” will mean that classified information will get out; details germane to a legal matter, for example, or health information or financial data. How can security be applied to an open sea of data?

Clarabridge has spent years developing its sentiment and text analytics technology, and asserts it is uniquely positioned to support enterprise-scale customer feedback initiatives. The company maintains offices in Barcelona, London, San Francisco, Singapore, and Washington, DC. They also happen to be hiring as of this writing.

Cynthia Murrell, November 10, 2015

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


AT&T and Its View of Customer Service

November 2, 2015

I read “AT&T Lawyers Want You To Know That AT&T’s CEO Will Never Listen To Customer Suggestions.” According to the write up:

Effectively, AT&T’s saying it will field no consumer recommendations. What, exactly, is the temperature in that icy, inhuman bunker, fellas? AT&T proceeds to inform the Times that the reason it treats all of its customers like potential enemies…

With many enterprise search vendors offering their systems as a solution to customer service challenges, I wonder what “customer service” means. For AT&T, the notion of customer service triggers thoughts of legal hassles. For search vendors, customer service may be a precursor to much-needed revenue.

But for customers, the idea of customer service is a chimera.

Stephen E Arnold, November 2, 2015

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