Artificial Intelligence (AI), Gunnebo Business Solutions, Machine Learning (ML), Microsoft Azure

Microsoft LEAP: Adding Business Value and Intelligence

Adding Business Value and Intelligence

The concept of business value and intelligence is aimed at more productive measures through the utilization of various tech application and analytical tool for the assessment of raw data. Business intelligence makes use of activities like data mining, analytical processing, querying and reporting. Companies take advantage to improve their operationalization, as well as accelerate their decision making. Business intelligence is also useful in the aspect of reducing cost and expenses and also identifying new business opportunities.

Machine learning technologies. Millennial students teaching a robot to analyse data

A lot of experts have shared their ideas and spoken on various aspect of business values and intelligence relating to AI in Redmond. Notable speakers include Jennifer Marsman, Maxim Lukiyanov, Martin Wahl, and Noelle LaCharite. The aspects that they extensively spoke on is a machine and learning fundamentals, introduction to new azure machine learning service, using cognitive services to power your business applications, and how to solve business problems using AI, respectively.

Machine and Learning Fundamentals

The fundamentals of machine learning have to do with understanding both the theoretical and programming aspect. it is also important to be up to date with the latest algorithm and technology that is being implemented by the various programming tools for machine learning. The there simplest explanation of the term machine learning is that the operation of the machine in such a way that it would be able to perform various tasks.

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Algorithms can learn how to perform these tasks in various ways, and this brings us to the different types of machine learning. They include supervised learning which is carried out to enable the machine to identify and differentiate between various data. Unsupervised learning, on the other hand, does not have to do with a specific data or structure that the machine is supposed to produce. Another type of machine learning is reinforcement learning.

The importance of a machine model’s accuracy cannot be understated. The accuracy is what really determines how effective a machine can be for the operationalization of a company. machine models are estimated or measured mainly by prediction making and putting them to work in the real world sense. In the business world, a model cannot be accepted until it has been tested against the real world and the results are satisfactory. Measuring a machine model depends on the characteristics of such a particular model, and the circumstances the model is needed in the real world.

Two vital aspects of Machine learning are CNN and RNN. CNN is convolutional neural networks, while RNN is recurrent neural networks. For CNN mainly generate free size outputs, and are used for minimal amounts of reprocessing. RNN on the other hand functions on random inputs and outputs. They can also be sued for the processing of random sequences. So in basic terms, CNN is built such that they can be able to recognize images while RNN, on the other hand, recognizes sequences.

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Furthermore, Jennifer Marsman helped in the description of various methods that are related to artificial intelligence, and they include the following.

  • Search and Optimization

The use of a search engine and search optimization helps to rank AI algorithms. Explaining the role of AI for search and optimization purposes on search engines could be very technical. Machines are also taught on how to work with these to rank algorithms.

  • Logic

Logic also plays a major role in AI. The application of Logic in Ai could be as an analytical tool, as a knowledge representation formalism, and also a method of reasoning. Logic can also be used in the aspect of programming language. With this, it can explore both the prospects and the problems of the success of AI.

  • Probabilistic Methods for Uncertain Reasoning

One of the most widely artificial methods for representing uncertainty is a probability. A lot of certainty factors have been utilized for quantifying uncertainty for alternative numerical schemes over the years.

  • Classifier and Statistical Learning Methods

Classifiers associated with AI includes Naive Bayes, Decision trees, perceptron, amidst a host of others. There are also various statistical learning methods and theories that are in used to evaluate the uncertainties of AI. However, there are limitations to these statistical models, and this is where logic comes.

  • Artificial Neural Networks

This is the impact of the earlier mentioned RNN and CNN on the concept of AI. A typical explanation of ANN in a natural language processing AI which can be used in the interpretation of human speech.

  • Evaluation Progress in AI

This is imperative in the estimation of the progress of the concept of AI across all sectors including business models. Three evaluation types include human discrimination, peer confrontation, and problem benchmarks.

An Introduction to New Azure Machine Learning Service

Maxim Lukiyanov spoke about the working principle of the new Azure machine learning service. The service helps to simplify and accelerate building, training, as well as the development of various machine learning models. Furthermore, the automated machine can be utilized in such a way that algorithms that are needed are easily identified, and the hyperparameters are tuned faster.

New Azure Machine Learning Service also helps to improve productivity and reduce costs with auto-scaling compute methods, as well as develops for the machine learning procedure. New Azure Machine Learning Service also have the advantage of storing the data easily on the cloud. Using the latest programming language is also a seamless operation with the New Azure Machine Learning Service, with open source frameworks like PyTorch, TensorFlow, and scikit-learn.

Maxim also spoke further on some benefits of the New Azure Machine Learning:

  • Easy and flexible pricing method, as you will have to pay a=for only the features that you use.
  • The machine learning is very easy to understand, and the tools that come with it are not in any way restrictive.
  • With the various data and algorithm of the tool, there will be more accurate predictions
  • The tools from the machine make it very easy to import data, and as well as fine-tune the results.
  • A lot of other devices can be connected easily to the platform with the aid of the tolls
  • Data models can be easily published as a web service
  • The time scale for the publish of experiments is only a matter of minutes. This is a very major upgrade when compared to expert data scientists that take days.
  • There is adequate security from the Azure security measures. And this is very useful for the storage of Data in the cloud.

Using Cognitive Services to Power your Business Applications: An Overview and Look at Different AI Use Cases

Martin Wahl explained that with Azure cognitive services, customers are set to benefit from AI with developers. With this, they will not even need the service of a data scientist, which is a major advantage to saving both time and costs. This is done by building this machine in such a way that the learning models, pipelines and infrastructure needed are packaged up on cognitive service for important activities such as vision, speech, search, processing of text, understanding languages, and many more operations. This means that anyone who is capable of writing a program at all can make use of the machine learning to improve the application.

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Customers who have patronized this service are already benefiting from cognitive services such as face container, text container, custom vision service support for logo detection, language detection, in-depth analysis and many more.

Martin Wahl finally explained that with Azure service, more value is added to the business, and the implementation of artificial intelligence is easier than ever.

How to Solve Complex Business Problems Using AI Without Needing a Data Scientist or Machine Learning Expert.

With the possession of basic skills like python coding, data visualization, Hadoop platform, apache spark etc. complex business problems can be solved, even without being a machine learning expert or a data scientist.  All of these are made possible through the help of AI and all that is needed is just dedication and willingness. Some procedure to go about this include:

  • Understanding the basics: This has to do with acquiring general knowledge on the basics, both theoretically and practically.
  • Learning Statistics: Statistics is core to solving business problems, and some of the aspect to be looked at include Sampling, data structures, variable, correlation, and regression etc.
  • Learning Python
  • Making attempts on an explanatory data analysis project
  • Creation of learning models
  • Understanding the technologies that are related to big data
  • Exploring deeper models
  • Completing a complex business problem.

Finally, Noelle LaCharite gave a vivid explanation of how a PoC was made and I did one myself in Delphi in 30 minutes with the aid of Azure AI.

DevOps, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Microservices, Operations, Technical

Microsoft LEAP: Accelerating Business Value

This is my third article from Microsoft LEAP and todays’ focus is the use of microservices and Kubernetes.

Containers Are Crucial For the More Essential Microservices

A very important topic that was discussed throughout the agenda of the conference was the use of Microservices and how essential they are for most applications for the business sectors. With different approaches and angles to this topic, Brendand Buns, one of Kubernetes co-founder, gave a session which focused on the use of containers for microservices. He focused on his product, Kubernetes, which is one of the best and most recommended open-source services for the use containers with the use of policies. Microservices are important due to their ability of being agile and their sophisticated architecture which helps in a faster digital offering.

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However, currently found microservices are used on physical services which leads to many problems. This is why the use of containers is a breakthrough which gives the user a light runtime environment. It can also be used on physical or virtual servers which is a huge development compare to older technologies.

The use of containers will also help in providing better isolation, due to the use of many executions on only one operating system. Such an opportunity will aid developers in minimizing the use of many different VMs. Brendand discussed the use of Domain driven developments against using test driven developments; in terms the more relatable for businesses and how to pick the right method. Overall, the final conclusion was to reflect the scaling levels that could be reached through using Kubernetes as a service to provide containers while using microservices for your business.

The Use of Service Fabric Mesh

One popular session in the program was by Mark Fussell and Vaclav Turecek. This talk discussed the introduction of the anticipated future product called Service Fabric Mesh, with a full comparison with the currently used cloud service. Many different points have been discussed to describe the service fabric fully. However, the audience got more excited when they heard the different benefits that are met while using this new service.

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Mark spoke about the time taken to create instances of VMs and the hassle in the whole process. This is where service fabric shines as it creates the VMs only once, allowing it to be used through the platform. More packages can be added to the cluster further on without any time consumptions. The second point tackled by Vaclav was the hosting opportunities with service fabric which is described as high-density. Which explains why the cost is lower for service fabrics, as the applications are not connected to the VMs in particular, giving a space to connect more than one application to a single VM.

Last but not least, they both discussed the flexibility of the service fabric mesh to be used with different servers or any different environments, disregarding the current existing infrastructure. They added the fact that service fabric helps in controlling the machine lifecycle. Developers were more educated on the differences between cloud technologies and whether to transfer or not.

The Touch Point: ACI and AKS

When it comes to the use of Azure Container Instances(ACI), Justin Luk, the product manager for Azure and Kuberentes, was the best pick for such content. Developers were glad to know that containers by AKS can be used with their ACIs. The containers can be quickly used when needed without any preps, saving time and effort. Instances will also be easily deleted directly after the needed work is done. AKS is used in these on-demand moments to monitor the work and control the creation and deletion process. This can help developers provide new severs instantly when needed without any hassle. When a certain problem or demand is asked for, AKS are used to reach the needed output without any extra services or products.

An Environment of AKS: Best Practices

Another session that stood out from all the Kubernetes sessions was the one conducted by Saurya Das, another product manager in Azure. This session was to reflect the success stories by some of the developers out there that used AKS in their platforms. Developers were happy to know about the multi-tenancy when using the cluster isolation. In addition, was the different network designs that could be used with their new service. These networks can also be implemented using policies, that help make the development easier and more secure. Overall, everyone in the session was satisfied to know about the scaling opportunities to expect and the strong control for monitoring and handling it possesses.

Monitoring Your Procedures Using Azure Monitoring

On the other hand, Ralph Squillace, gave a wider image and a better understanding on multi-tenancy and their use with AKS. He discussed how it is commonly mistakenly used through the AKS products itself, whereas it is actually recommended to be used in the application directly. Ralph emphasized on such points, by relating to some best practices which were mainly of SaaS products. He gave a few tips and tricks on how your service should be in terms of security, designs, policies and much more in order to be able to integrate and handle the multi-tenancy directly and easily through the application.

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Kubernetes: Guide for its Tools

The end of this section of containers being used was bent towards introducing the different operating tools that will assess developers while using kubernetes services. Bridget Kromhout was able to introduce the developers to new tools as Terraform, Helm, Draft, Brigade, Kashti and many others. These different tools were discussed thoroughly on how to use them in terms of configurations and app development. They were also helpful in scripting for event-driven operations and to manage the app fully. Developers were happy to learn how to efficiently use Kubernetes and containers for their currently existing architectures and structures.

All in all, a very on-topic and interesting day at Micrososft LEAP 2019. I look forward to the next sessions. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at bjorn.nostdahl@nostdahl.com

Business Intellegence (BI), DevOps, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Methodology, OpenID Connect

Microsoft LEAP: Deploying for the cloud

The second day of Microsoft LEAP we focused on Deploying for the Cloud. Deploying applications in the cloud and offering Software, Platform and Infrastructure as a Service are hot topics at the moment (Well, it has been a hot topic for some time now). Choosing a good cloud provider is a very important decision to make in this process. Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS are two of the leading cloud service providers. Since this article is based on my visit to Redmond and the LEAP keynotes, I will be looking at some of the services Azure provides.

DevOps with Microsoft Azure

Jessica Deen, the Deen of DevOps, had a great session on how DevOps is about people, process, and products. Getting it all right requires effort, but the benefits to your organization and customers can be huge. The aim of DevOps is to merge Developments, Operations and Quality Assurance for continuous delivery. DevOps is not a process or a job role. It is a total culture. You live in it. Your application lives in it.

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Why DevOps was created? How DevOps increase the profit of a company? DevOps mostly focus on three main areas: Reducing human errors, reduce downtime and increase productivity. With proper DevOps processes you can reduce costs and increase productivity.

There are 3 main sections in DevOps. Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment, and Continuous learning and monitoring. Azure has a very broad ecosystem to support that. There are 5 main tools in Azure DevOps ecosystem. Those are:

  • Azure Boards
  • Azure Pipelines
  • Azure Repos
  • Azure Test Plans
  • Azure Artifacts

You can track all the development stages, from idea to release, with Azure Boards. Azure Boards gives you Kanban boards, backlogs, team dashboards, and custom reporting to track all works. This helps to keep your team aligned with all the code changes throughout the development life cycle. Azure Pipelines are available for Linux, Windows, and MacOS. It supports any language. You can build, test and deploy apps written from Java, Net, PHP, NodeJS, C/C++, Ruby, Android, iOS etc. Also, it is easily extensible. With Azure Pipelines, you can easily build and push images to container registries like docker hub and Aure container Registry.

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Azure is integrated with GitHub now, and with Azure Repos, now you can have Unlimited private Git repo hosting and support for TFVC that scales from a hobby project to the world’s largest Git repositories. Azure Test Plan is expected to give you end-to-end traceability. You can Run tests and log defects from your browser. Track and assess quality throughout your testing lifecycle. Finally, with Azure Artifacts, you can Create and share Maven, npm, and NuGet package feeds from public and private sources – fully integrated into CI/CD pipelines.

Vulnerabilities and Azure Monitor

Barry Dorrans, author of “Beginning ASP.NET Security” had a great session on the vulnerabilities of applications. OWASP illustrates that developers keep making the same mistakes over and over again, but what about more esoteric vulnerabilities. Actually, Microsoft releases a report called Microsoft Bulletin about their vulnerabilities. Microsoft has particularly mentioned about 8 vulnerabilities and their actions and process to fix them in one of their latest conferences. Some of them are:

  1. Hash DoS
  2. Padding Oracle
  3. SharePoint ViewState RCE
  4. Exchange RCE
  5. Infinite Regex DoS

It’s not the time for a detailed study of them. But it’s good to have some understanding of it. Let’s discuss a couple of them.

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Hash DoS is a denial of service attack caused parsing to form inputs. Let’s take an example to understand it. Assume a scenario where all form fields with A would go into slot A. To get a value back you go to the slot and look through everything. The more A fields there are the longer it takes. If you can force everything into a single slot then lookups will take more and more CPU which leads to DoS. Microsft advice not to use user inputs as dictionaries unless the user input is a string or a Hash Code for the user input is strong and you implement a session key. In the Padding Oracle, there will be a cryptographic attack to disclose information. You can avoid it by Not exposing padding oracles and Not returning detailed errors.

Azure Monitor service gives you full visibility across your App & your Infrastructure Health. Catherine Wang and Michael Milirud took us through how Azure Monitoring helps us discovering and fix issues with Diagnostics and Analytics tools. That’s not all. It tracks KPIs and proactively optimizes end-user experience. It is built around three concepts.

  • Unified Monitoring – A common platform for all metrics, logs, and another monitoring telemetry.
  • Data-Driven Insights – Advanced diagnostics and analytics powered by machine learning capabilities
  • Partner Integration – the Rich ecosystem of popular DevOps, issue management, SIEM, and ITSM tools

Power BI

Sergei Gundorov took us through a great keynote on Business Decisions and reminded us how most decisions are made from data. If you have better ways to analyze and present data, you can make better decisions. Microsoft introduced Power BI for business analytics. It is intended to be for both small and big businesses. But Power BI is not just a self-service tool for business analysts. Power BI has introduced many tools which enable you to analyze and visualize data very quickly. A striking feature of Power BI is its Ability to create and share reports.

With the introduction of Power BI embedded in Azure, now you can integrate power BI capabilities with your cloud application ever so smoothly. It drastically simplifies creating reports, visuals, dashboards in your app. Meanwhile, Power BI Embedded API allows developers to customize how intelligence is added to their applications.

Investor analyzing stock market report and financial dashboard with business intelligence (BI), with key performance indicators (KPI).png

Let’s see how Power BI Embedded have made integration easier. Power BI contents can be embedded in any application. It relies on web standards such as HTML5 and JavaScript. It works in web applications, mobile applications, and even thick client applications. SDK resources support many development platforms such as C#, JavaScript, TypeScript.

We discussed DevOps, Monitoring and Power BI here. There are more to add. Deploying your application in a good cloud service provider will make life easier. This article intended to give you an explanation about the current trends in the cloud world. Particularly, how Microsoft has improved their cloud business. There are other cloud services who provide similar functionalities. For example, Google and Amazon that also have a huge set of services.  I look forward to the next LEAP sessions, and as always – If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at bjorn.nostdahl@gunnebo.com

Travel, USA

U.S.A. here I come

In January, I had a great opportunity to join the NRF Big Retail Expo and Microsoft LEAP on behalf of the Gunnebo Business Solutions Retail team. In the gap between the two events, I had a week of spare time that I spent roaming around the Eastern part of the country.

In my adventures, I was joined by my son Sondre and my brother Vidar.

While I was working, my traveling companions spent a few days in and around New York center. I managed to have an express city tour by bus on the last day of the exhibition and I even found the cheapest Manhattan beer in Johnnys Bar.

We also took a ride from New York to Lakehurst to see the Hindenburg crash site.

The 20th century was marked by an impressive list of disasters. But the crash of the German zeppelin Hindenburg surpassed many of them, having provided a never-before-witnessed visual spectacle. The zeppelin was a pride of the Nazi airship fleet. Being 804 feet long, it was the biggest aircraft ever built. On May 6, 1937, it was landing at a navy base in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on the biggest empty site close to Manhattan. The Hindenburg was handling an immense flying bomb. Suddenly it burst into flames and crashed. As a result, thirty-six people died. So did the popularity of zeppelins as means of transatlantic transit.

Plan de travail 1
© pict rider – stock.adobe.com

The site where the Hindenburg crashed is still deserted and windswept – just crumbled asphalt and occasional scrubby weeds. And it’s still a part of an acting navy base, which means that everyone who wants a tour has to be screened weeks in advance. Unfortunately for us, we were civilians and foreigners. So, after a thorough investigation, we had to make a u-turn out of the base.

us army soldier outdoors
© michaeljung – stock.adobe.com

Having been politely rejected at the navy base, we decided to stop for a beer before driving through Philadelphia. Our choice fell on the themed Paddy’s pub based on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”,  an American sitcom created by Robert McElhenney and Glenn Howerton. The series tells about a group of antisocial and self-indulgent friends who call themselves “The Gang” and run the Irish bar in South Philadelphia.

Alack, my son is only 20 years old and in the US, it is not permitted for minors to sit at the bar until they are 21. So, we were rather rudely rejected.

But every cloud has a silver lining. Having been expelled from Paddy’s pub, we moved on to Max’s Tavern which is actually run by Robert McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson. We were warmly welcomed there and really enjoyed our evening in a spirit of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.

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The next day we went on the road again, heading for Washington, the District of Columbia, commonly referred to as Washington D.C., the capital of the United States.

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We started from the White House, but were abruptly shuffled away by the Secret Service due to a security situation in which they could not guarantee for our safety. The United States Secret Service (also known as USSS or Secret Service) is a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security.  It conducts criminal investigations and protects the nation’s leaders – so, quite a great deal for us to have been fussed by them.

Politics will only get you so far, so we felt like changing the scenery and listening to some music. Nothing better than Nashville,  the capital and most populous city of the American state of Tennessee. The city is famous for its country and rock music, so, we really enjoyed our time there.

After enjoying the Devil’s music in Nashville, with an “obscene belly and shaking that notorious leg”, we needed some religious fuel.

The Ark Encounter in Petersburg, Kentucky, where we headed next, is a reconstruction of Noah’s ark, built to biblical specs. It is one of the largest timber-frame constructions in the world. Simply imagine the structure longer than 1.5 football fields and higher than a four-story building – and that will be just the thing. Inside, there is a Creation Museum with numerous exhibits, botanic gardens, planetarium, zoo, zip line adventure course, and much more. No wonder it attracts millions of guests.

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Being an atheist, this impressed me in quite a few ways. The effort and money spent to prove the biblical and question the scientific approach to history – but also the number of people actually believing in Creationism.  Hopefully, progress does not stand still. Even Pope Francis has stated recently that the evolution theory and the religious teaching on creation don’t actually contradict each other and has cautioned against portraying God as a kind of magician who made the universe with a magic wand.

We enjoyed ourselves in Cincinnati for a few hours, and then the trip continued to the former automobile capital – the city of Detroit, Michigan. The city has gone through a dramatic economic and demographic decline over the recent decades, so, now it can hardly be called the most pleasant place to visit. Local crime rates are among the highest in the United States, and vast areas of the city are in a state of severe decay. My son Sondre insisted on getting out of the city as soon as possible, and we all felt really uncomfortable among the abandoned neighborhoods.

Abandoned Packard Factory 9
© Atomazul – stock.adobe.com

Our journey continued to Canada. We visited Toronto, the capital of the province of Ontario and the largest city in Canada by population (almost 3 million residents).

Toronto's Winter skyline, the view from Cherry Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
© Roland – stock.adobe.com

When we arrived, the weather was terrible and we urged for some entertainment. Vidar found a tribute band performing the songs of Thomas Alan Waits.  For those who are unfamiliar, it is an American singer, musician, and actor. He primarily worked  in jazz but also wrote blues, vaudeville, and experimental music, and his lyrics focused on the underside of U.S. society. In 2005, a group of musicians from Toronto started to perform renditions of Tom Waits’ songs – and they are still doing it. We spent the evening with this great tribute band having Little Norway beer.

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Next day, we rushed off to Niagara Falls (the collective name for three waterfalls on the border between Canada and the USA. The site is really tremendous and worth seeing.

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After so much water, we set our minds to fire and decided to visit a coal seam fire in the borough of Centralia, Pennsylvania, back in the USA. The fire is burning in underground coal mines at depths of up to 90 m.  It started yet in the sixties, most likely, from the deliberate burning of trash in a former mine. Now it covers about 15 square kilometers and is the major reason why residents are abandoning this area. The population of Centralia dwindled from around 1,400 at the time the fire started to 10 in 2017. Most of the buildings have come apart. They say the fire can continue to burn for over 250 years at its current rate.

Having made a circle, we finally came back to New Jersey for a short final trip around the peninsula. A cozy family dinner with Sangria, steak and a lot of good conversation was a wonderful last chord in our adventures.

Now I am off to Seattle, where more posts will follow from my visit to Microsoft in Redmond and attendance of the LEAP program 🙂

Commercial, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Gunnebo Retail Solution

Retail in 2030: Future Vision through Crystal Ball of NRF Expo

My third day at NRF Expo’2019 was devoted to the future of retail. With all innovations, what can we expect from commerce in some 10 years? Ask the futurist – and you will get the picture of the smiling robot knocking at your door to hand in a perfect-fit suit you virtually tried on halfway around the world a day before.

iot smart retail futuristic technology concept, happy girl try to use smart display with virtual or augmented reality in the shop or retail to choose select ,buy cloths and give a rating of products

But though there is nothing impossible in this alternative, should the businesses rely on it while developing plans and building strategies? Does it reflect the needs of customers and their most desperate desires? Here we come back to the thesis you could repeatedly hear from different speakers at NRF Expo’2019: modern commerce is not an art, it is a science based on a deep and profound analysis of data. Want to be successful tomorrow? Study the trends and search for vacant niches today. For these are clients’ expectations that shape the future. And only those novelties are worth efforts which enhance customer loyalty.

With this in mind, here are the four magic words from the NRF wizards you need to remember and repeat as a spell while building your business strategy:

  • customer experience
  • convenience
  • inclusion
  • consciousness

Let’s see how the future of retail is to be built on these cornerstones.

Shops of the Future will Sell Experience, Not Products

It is hard to impress anybody with the assortment these days. Goods are available as simply as never before and new products are launched every day. This stimulates advanced retailers to bet on experience more than on products. Customers prefer things that either have a story behind, or create a special lifestyle, or highlight their individuality. Expert state that shops of the future will become more like places where retailers will build relationships with the shoppers creating opportunities for people to connect with the product.

Rather than just visiting the store to buy and leave, people want to be entertained and amused, to have some kind of social experience. This reminded me of Apple’s recent “town square” store concept: a place for shoppers where they can meet friends, have fun, and try new gadgets. Another fascinating example is The Dreamery by Casper, the place where you can book a nap session (during which you will actually try out a new mattress and maybe even decide to buy it). Such shops set a trend which has already got the name of “retailtainment”.

And here we come to the second variable which will define the future of retail in the forthcoming decades: convenience.

Customers Will Favor Retailers Who Will Offer More Convenience

The focus of reports of FIS, Excentus, and Shell representatives at NRF Expo was on enhancing brand loyalty while providing more convenience for the customers. This includes improved payment, flawless and consistent service, and better personalization.

Technologies like POS systems, beacons, image and voice recognition, AI, and AR already make shopping more user-friendly.  Amazon Go replaces checkouts with AI-driven Just Walk Out technology. It allows making all payments in the store using Amazon account. Another nice recent example is IKEA’s new app that leverages Apple’s ARKit. With it, users can preview how the items from IKEA shop will fit in their accommodation.

Young woman doing shopping with virtual reality glasses

And the line between real and virtual shopping experiences will become thinner and thinner. Most experts agree that, on contrast to previous forecasts, brick-and-mortar stores will not totally disappear. Though most of them will face great transformations turning into what is called a phygital store – that is, a combination of physical and digital space and developing a fluid web-to-store customer experience. The others will become more of a showroom or switch to BOPIS model. What should be taken into account is that different segments of the target audience need different approaches to service modernization.

New Niches Will Be Occupied by Those Who Consider Inclusion

The constant challenge for the businesses is finding new market niches. One of the solutions proposed at NRF Expo was considering the groups which have been long staying in the shadow. Thus, Microsoft has started to pay special attention to disabled customers making services more accessible and convenient for people with disabilities. In his report, the company CMO Chris Capossela gave an example of how valuing inclusion and diversity can become a part of a brand strategy. Microsoft’s new Xbox controller is designed entirely for players with mobility impairments.

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But the disabled are not the only group still waiting for more attention from the retailers. Think of ethnic minorities and, not surprisingly, women.

Statistics says women drive 70 to 80% of all consumer purchases. That is because they often buy on behalf of other categories, including children, elderly parents, and even husbands. Recently, women’s buying power has surpassed men’s. So, by prioritizing female segment, companies can win a lot. Want inspiration? Study the case of Soda Says, a retail brand selling smart tech to women, or making their life teccessible, as the company’s slogan says. Their data-driven approach to the study of true needs and preferences of female consumers shows it’s not just about coloring everything pink.

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In terms of ethnicity, Asian-Americans represent a fast-growing buying power, especially in housing, public transportation, and education. Understanding in what categories this segment of customers is ready to spend more can give insights on how the companies can work more effectively to occupy this niche.

Environment Consciousness: The Everlasting Fashion

As society is becoming more environmentally conscious, the circular economy is gaining ground as another promising trend in retail. Progressive companies receive popularity by supporting environmental sustainability, and not necessarily with the cost. Consider, for example, a luxury fashion brand Elvis & Kresse. The business started as an attempt to tackle a ten-million-ton-problem of leather scraps which need to be disposed of in London annually. Now the company produces a full range of leather accessories from what previously was buried in the ground.

Other companies, like Starbucks or Best Buy, set on to reduce packaging or even build eco-friendly stores. This includes energy-efficient lighting and water consumption, using solar and wind power, and recycled and low-carbon-emitting construction materials.

Can technologies help retailers to become greener? Sure. Consider, for example, the use of IoT. This technology is already gaining ground in agriculture where it helps to reduce the number of pesticide fertilizers and so on. In retail, the use of sensors can reduce energy costs (due to more efficient lighting and temperature regulation, for example), enhance supply chain management, and help the customers make healthier and greener choices when shopping.

Let’s Sum Up:

Building a successful business strategy implies the understanding of how things are going to change in the course of time. The future of retail is defined by the most promising trends we are observing today and is tailored to the needs of different groups of customers. As it was shown at NRF Expo’2019, the companies which want to succeed in retail in 2030, should organize their business processes and technical modernization keeping in mind such crucial ideas as emphasizing customer experience, ensuring convenience of services for various target groups, providing inclusion, and staying environmentally conscious.

Hope the presented ideas and tactical trends will be useful for you and will help you to chart the course for your business. Stay prosperous and flourishing!

If you are interested in hearing more about the future of retail, feel free to contact me at bjorn.nostdahl@gunnebo.com 🙂

 

 

Commercial, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Gunnebo Retail Solution

NRF Expo: Innovation in Retail

The second day of NRF Expo’2019 was devoted to the changes the retail industry is facing these days and the novelties we are to expect in the nearest future. Brilliant speakers, including John Zavada from PETCO, Glenn Shoosmith from BookingBug, Phil Thompson form AWS, Linda Bustos from Skava, and others, shared their vision on how and why introduce innovation into the company’s processes.

Marketing Data mangement platform and Omnichannel concept image. Omnichannel element icons on abstract Fashion stroe background.

Their main message was: while everybody is talking about digitization, automation, ML, boundless stores, and omnichanelling, human interaction is still of the top priority for it causes and shapes all the changes.

Why Take Online Disruption Seriously

Few people today would object to the necessity of introducing technical innovations. At the same time, few as well understand that this implies a significant rethinking of cost components and budgets. As was mentioned by Sebastian Grady, president and COO of Rimini Street, today companies are still spending up to 90 % of their IT budgets on operating expenses, maintenance and support just “to keep the lights on”.

happy women with smartphones and shopping bags

So, while everybody is talking about innovation, it seems that quite often, businesses don’t take it seriously enough – and put themselves at risk. For keeping up technologically not just allows your business to stay competitive among other companies in your sector – it is if but the only way to retain customers who are aware of and willing to use new technologies.

Meet the Customers on Their Terms

Reducing friction points for consumers and serving for their convenience are the main reasons for digitization and automation in retail in today’s competitive environment.

Developing so-called boundless stores and omnichannel integration are the two strategies which experts recommend to pay attention to in 2019. Improving logistics (like same-day delivery or easy return) and strong reliance on data are the other things to keep in mind.

Though, accent on digital channels does not mean physical stores are to lose their relevance. People are still attracted to in-store visits and purchasing. People are attracted to brick-and-mortar stores by the social pleasure of personal experiences, human interaction and communication – that human touch which can’t be replaced by machines. Reimagining store functions supercharging staff with insights for better service were in the focus of the session by Glenn Shoosmith, CEO and Founder of BookingBug. Skilled, well-informed and enthusiastic staff empowered with digital support ensures clients get those exceptional experiences that encourage them to become return customers, the speaker stressed.

But what can be the trade in question? Many business owners are reluctant to innovations because of the expected costs. So, is it really necessary to invest huge sums into the development in order to bring digitization to your retail business?

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Though custom development has a lot of advantages, it is not necessary to address it any time you want to introduce IT innovations into your processes. Many services are available today from AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and IBM Watson as ready-made units. Such big technology providers have more capacities and years of experience in the development of IT products, and cloud technologies make their implementation and maintenance rather easy and convenient.

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For example, Phil Thompson, industry CTO from AWS Retail team, introduced possibilities provided to retailers by AWS – and the list is impressive, indeed, including IoT, AI, and machine learning, all promising to ensure 50% greater forecast accuracy and store productivity.

Summing Up,

The statistics speaks for itself: 36% of retailers are considering introducing digitization and automation into their businesses in 2019. So, don’t miss the opportunity to stay competitive, join forces with fellow retailers, partner up with vendors and remember: where there is a wish, there is always a way!

If you are interested in hearing more about the future of retail, feel free to contact me at bjorn.nostdahl@gunnebo.com 🙂

Commercial, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Gunnebo Retail Solution

NRF Expo: Mom and Pop Stores in 2019

Welcome to NRF Expo Series

With this article, I am starting a series of reports inspired by visiting NRF 2019 retail’s big show which took place on January 13-15th in NYC. As noted by the organizers, NRF is the world’s largest retail conference and expo which gathers the biggest retail players from 99 countries. So, it is a splendid opportunity to learn about trends and innovations, find new partners and clear out prospects.

Women using smartphone for online shopping

My first day was majorly devoted to deepening into the transformations small retailers are facing today with the increasing impact of digitization. While everybody’s eyes are justly turned to the marvels of such erupted online giants as Amazon, Alibaba or eBay, do so-called mom and pop stores really stand a chance to survive in this brave new digital world? Here are some insights from the leaders of the industry.

Can Mom and Pop Shops Stay on a Roll?

Mom and pop stores are small, mostly family-run businesses with a small amount of business volume and single location. Most of them are struggling hard today to stand up to large international retailers. But the experts promise the situation can be improved due to technical innovations and improvements in customer experience.

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A good example from my own home town Ålesund, where Sponland is ready to take on their journey into the future. Store Manager Marit Brunstad says: “It is a new and exiting future, a disruption we must take seriously; but we are prepared and motivated to meet our customers in new channels and on new terms”

Being not burdened by large operating expenses, staffing, and warehousing, small stores have more chances to benefit from flexibility and clear customer focus. On the contrast to multivendor marketplaces, they can succeed in a vertical dimension, that is, in exploiting narrow, really specialized niches and competently addressing their target audience. But most important, it is easier for them to develop and maintain relevant corporate culture and staff involvement.

Next Step to Staff Efficiency

There is a close link between the customer experience and employee experience, states Jami Blake, a voice of customer director in Tiffany & Co. Today’s customers differ considerably from the previous generations. They have much more knowledge about the product yet before they enter your store – and expect a consultant not just provide adequate and detailed information (which itself demands from employees to be better informed and enthusiastic). What is more important is the message the company beams, the narrative behind the product, the inspiration it brings to people’s lives. To be competitive, modern companies want (and need) to be the part of customers’ lives.

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But to inspire clients and to deliver the company’s promise properly, employees need to be inspired first. Here are some recommendations from the members of the senior executive panel discussion on how to drive enterprise profit and performance. The participants included executives with 50+ year experience in retail from such companies as Finish Line, Shopko, Macy’s, and Chico’s. The following statements from their discussion drew my attention:

  • do forget about multitasking, instead, keep all members of your staff concentrated on one task and delivering one message,
  • keep in mind the limitations of any technology, remember that technology should inspire your staff and make work easier, not become a burden,
  • encourage employees to ask questions and keep them involved,
  • create success stories not only for customers but for employees,
  • and, what is most important, while introducing any innovations into the processes, remember that any changes take time and avoid staff’s fatigue.

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To make a long story short, educate your staff, create corporate culture and connections and remember that staff dissatisfaction may cost too much since most often, it leads to customer dissatisfaction.

Customers Engaged

One of the ways to unburden your employees and though strange it may sound, to enhance customer loyalty is to shift more responsibility in the process of decision making and purchase on clients. Modern technologies make it simple and easy and it is a great opportunity for both big and small businesses.

We all live half-virtual life today staying connected most of the time. According to forecasts, each household is believed to have up to 50 connected devices by 2020, and mobile commerce is to capture 49% of online retail sales by that time reaching from $ 250 to $ 300 billion in transaction. Even today, companies which wisely use mobile apps are one step ahead of their competitors.

Turning your eyes on mobile technologies allows you to reach your customers where and when THEY want to shop. It encourages purchases through quicker and easier access to information about the product. It gives your customers more power and brings them into decision-making. It delights them through more personalized and seamless experiences. And it makes your employees less burdened.

Try It Online: State-of-the-Art Demos and Showrooms

Another perk modern technologies bring into commerce is opportunities offered by virtual and augmented reality. Even today, using headsets or other applicable technology, users can try on items and see holograms or 3-D views of the products. In the future, people will be able to visually shop in their local mom and pop store using VR or AR and have orders delivered to them.

Does it mean that traditional brick-and-mortar stores will sink into oblivion? Most likely, not, since there is a kind of the shopper’s delight no virtual store can give – that of keeping a thing in hands, touching it, feeling its smell – you know, all those sensations which induce us to spontaneous purchases. But it is quite predictable that most of the shops of the future will need to turn to BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick up in Store) concept. No wonder one of the panels of this year NRF conference was totally devoted to the future of the BOPIS model.

What small retailers should take into account first and foremost when intending to introduce this model into their business? Remember that to start BOPIS, you need to have full control of your inventory. Your store is expected to have agility and ability to act rapidly. Do think of autonomous supply chain. And remember that no matter what model you choose, a scientific, data-driven approach is a must-have for commerce today.

Conclusion: Modernized, not Historized

To survive in a modern competitive world, the company does not necessarily need to be a big conglomerate like Amazon or eBay. Small mom and pop stores have all chances to stay afloat and even prosper provided they benefit from modern technologies and innovative marketing strategies, such as developing in narrow specialized niches, staff optimization and education, creating a strong company culture, encouraging customer involvement, and store decentralization.

If you are interested in hearing more about the future of retail, feel free to contact me at bjorn.nostdahl@gunnebo.com 🙂

Gunnebo Business Solutions, Technical

Using Lottie to Enliven your App

What is the main feature of a good app? It enhances customers’ lives through the set of well-conceived steps in user experience (UX) design. Proper UX speeds up interactions and makes activities simply and orderly organized. On the surface, the easiest way to arm the users with a clear vision of the product functionality is to give comprehensive guideleines. But the more complex tasks the app performs the more time you spend on learning how to use it properly. Complexities of manuals create tension and distract users.

Smartphone - User Manual

That’s why, when creating a Gunnebo Security Solution app, we paid special attention to the development of user-friendly instructions for our clients. Gunnebo app is aimed at remote management of our security products. Since it has many functions, including alarm control, cash operation, data analysis, and devices coordination, it takes some time for the users to study all the functions. How can one make this boring and complicated task fun? We set our sights at animations as a nice way to entertain, attract attention and make instructions illustrative.

Our next concern was about the practical implementation of this decision. Everybody who has ever dealt with animations knows that it may take a lot of time and effort to create them. Even behind a small and seemingly simple animation, there may hide long lines of code. So, we decided to try Lottie, a relatively new animation library created by Airbnb. And it turned out to be the right choice.

Lottie is an excellent library for rendering Adobe After Effects animations  for Android, iOS, MacOS, TvOS and UWP.  It uses animation data exported as JSON files from Bodymovin extension and renders Adobe After Effects animations in real time. So, engineers don’t need to re-create them by hand and can work directly with animations as they are created by designers. Another good thing is that the size of animations is small no matter how complex they are.

Lottie supports numerous flexible after-effects, like solids, masks, shape layers, etc. And it allows various manipulations with an animation (resize, loop, reverse, scrub, change color, and other). You can play just some fragment of animation or loop it if you need and do lots of other things.

For the Gunnebo app, we have developed a set of animations which familiarize users with the app’s interface and functions. These include dashboard use, calling attention, data processing, etc.lottie

Animations created with Lottie have a lot of perks. Created slides show up only if user haven’t seen them. Thus, we don’t nag users with directions, they are only shown on the first use of a specific function.

The slides load from a solution folder. That is, the person who adds/edits new slides doesn’t need to be a developer and doesn’t have to edit the code. Files are added to GIT in Azure DevOps. Folder structure in Azure DevOps and folder names determine where slides will be shown. Slides load into Telerik SlideView, so, users can swipe or tap to go through the slides.

The text is stored in html, so, the style is localized and modified easily. Gunnebo uses Crowdin for localization.

The picture below represents the structure of the project in general:

Slideshow_UWP_iOS_Android

Gunnebo developers have used the following libraries for the implementation:

https://github.com/martijn00/LottieXamarin

https://github.com/azchohfi/LottieUWP

https://docs.telerik.com/devtools/xamarin/controls/slideview/slideview-overview

https://github.com/zzzprojects/html-agility-pack

Commercial, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Recruitment

Happy Holidays from Bjørn T.

Dear Friends and Collegues,

The holiday season is upon us once more. Families are celebrating Thanksgiving, Mawlid, Yule, Christmas and New Year. All of these holidays cumulate up to the most exiting event of the year: The fiscal year end. It’s a time to reflect on the past year, add up the cost and the revenue and make plans for the upcoming year. Accountants and controllers are pushing for the latest numbers, and managers spend late evenings planning the budgets for the next year.

Here at Gunnebo Business Solutions we have been planning 2019. I have spent time with my development and operational teams planning for the future, looking at the the high level backlog and discussing our main focus for the first quarter of the next year.

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Now I am finally back home with my family in Ålesund, and tonight wa are having Norwegian Pinnekjøtt, traditionally eaten on the West coast of the country. Pinnekjøtt is lamb ribs that have been salted and dried to preserve them.  The result is a delicious piece of lamb – quite unlike anything else, and very, very tasty. As side dishes, we eat mash from rutabaga, carrots and potatoes, and traditional pork sausages.

I want to take this time to wish my family and friends, as well as customers and partners, all the best, happy holidays and a prosperous forthcoming year. I hope to see you all soon!

Communism, Reflections, Travel, Ukraine

Fire in Chernobyl Zone Again

The news about wildfire raging in Red Forest reminded me of my visit to Chernobyl this February – and of even more distant past when I first learned about this place.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/chernobyl-fire-2018

https://www.vg.no/nyheter/utenriks/i/1kGA1B/skogbrann-herjer-i-tsjernobyl

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Newspaper front page from 1986

I was eleven then. The news about the disaster was shocking. It got etched in my memory forever. Together with the first disgraceful truth that I learned about communism. For several weeks, people in the Soviet Union were unaware of the accident, which led to thousands of needless untimely deaths. And who knows if they would have learned at all if the radioactive cloud hadn’t crossed the borders of the USSR. It was an unforgivable lie.

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The hotel where we stayed during our summer holiday of 1987

And the lie permeated the communist regime through. I learned even more about it a year later, during my visit to Bulgaria. The country belonged to the Soviet bloc then. There, for the first time, we violated the law by participating in illegal currency exchange – well, there actually were no other options, as the regime exchange rates were half than we could achieve on the black market. Communism forces people to lie and makes the crime the only way to survive: it is much easier to rule the people who feel insecure, scared, and guilty.

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Me, my brother Jon Helge and my cousins Svein Erik and Hanne

“Divide and conquer” – that’s another motto of this regime. The Iron Curtain, which separated the countries of the Soviet bloc from the rest of the world, created myths. It stressed and exaggerated differences. For decades, people of the Soviet Union were limited in their contacts with the rest of the world. Neither Europeans were welcomed in the USSR. We also could learn about many things only from the newspaper.

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LADA, most probably the same model that my grandfather Asbjørn owned

That’s why when, during my visit to Kyiv this winter, I was proposed to visit Chernobyl zone, I agreed, of course. The visit started like any other work-related trip. Meetings all day with our partner Trembit in Kiev. Trembit works with large organizations as well as startups utilizing Agile methodologies to deliver full-featured functionality. Trembit has been a partner for us in Node-RED for quite some time, and you will find many of our projects here on this blog.

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Duga (Russian: Дуга) was a Soviet over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system used as part of the Soviet anti-ballistic missile early-warning network. The system operated from July 1976 to December 1989. Two operational Duga radars were deployed, one near Chernobyl and Chernihiv in the Ukrainian SSR (present-day Ukraine), the other in eastern Siberia.

After thirty years, the place still reminds the desert. Very few people live here. Dilapidated houses, derelict yards… looters stalking in the search of pickings. It’s a post-apocalyptic world in the miniature.

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Fair at the Pripyat city outside Chernobyl.

Though, very slowly, Chernobyl is coming back to life. The nature revives. Wild animals here have forgotten about danger and aren’t afraid of humans at all. You can see a fox or even a deer crossing the street in a broad daylight.

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And when I recollect my visit to Chernobyl and my childhood memories, the question arises in my mind again and again: can we totally prevent such disasters in the future? I believe the only way to it is by joining forces to spread and strengthen European democratic values – openness, collaboration, and freedom of voice all around Europe and around the globe.

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I have worked in Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, Russia, and Poland – most countries of Eastern Europe. People are the same everywhere. Of course, post-communist echo can sometimes still be heard in the countries of the former Soviet camp. But there is a great potential for cooperation. Western and Eastern Europe working together is our only chance to build the society in which Chernobyl will never repeat.