On the Cover
User experience expectations will soar
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 08:36
Written by Ilva Pieterse
Context-aware computing will be used to satisfy heightened expectations by 2015
According to a report by analyst firm Gartner, published last year, context-aware computing is a leading trend in IT that will surge and cause enterprises to rethink how user experience affects consumers and employees. This will have a massive impact by 2015, with over $140 billion in spending being affected by new context-enriched services, it says, and context-awareness will be as influential to mobile consumer services and relationships as search engines are to the Web.
So what exactly is context-awareness and how can it be beneficial to business?
According to Nick Jones, VP and distinguished Gartner analyst, “In the customer-facing domain, the context opportunity is about hyper personalised services that relate to ‘moments of need’ or ‘moments of truth’, as marketing people would term them.”
Rick Parry, MD of AIGS, says context-aware services can use location, presence, social attributes and environmental information to address the needs of clients. “If a client is holidaying along the coast, a context-enriched app can detect that, and automatically recommend hotels or restaurants in the area based on the new location. Companies will therefore avoid sending irrelevant promotional messages because the application can detect if the customer is too far away to make use of an offer.”
He believes such computing could also have security benefits, particularly in terms of banking and transactional security. “If a smartphone is enabled with a context-aware application, the phone could communicate that the card holder is within five metres of the ATM and that the transaction is safe and can be processed,” he says. “At the end of the day, companies that make use of context-aware computing can improve their business processes, reduce advertising costs by being extremely targeted, improve employee effi ciency and expand or retain customer relationships.”
According to Muhammed Omar, pre-sales manager for HP Software at HP South Africa, “Context-aware computing empowers business to understand the needs of their customers at a specific time and provide the associated services to them proactively. Customers’ requirements differ from time to time and from customer to customer. Thus, being able to deliver the right service to your customer at a particular time provides business with the edge to improve its service delivery to its customers and differentiate itself from its competition.”
“Context has the potential to make a very wide range of services and customer interactions more timely, more relevant and more compelling,” Jones concurs. “Pretty much any consumer-facing industry will exploit it. Context is also relevant for employee-facing applications, but is less mature in that domain.”
In terms of challenges, Jones says, context is limited by the imagination of companies who must work out how to exploit the opportunities it raises - it’s a very new concept for most people. “Other potential obstacles include the need to handle personalisation and personal data carefully and ensure users understand how it’s being employed. Also it’s likely that mega-vendors such as Google, Apple, and maybe Amazon and Microsoft, will end up owning a lot of our contextual information. For example, look at Apple’s recent move into mapping, which is a foundation for location-based services. So organisations using context may have to partner with them, whether they like it or not,” he says.
According to Parry, aside from the fact that the technology is complex, there are privacy concerns for end-users. “It’s a fairly new concept, and most of your customers may not be completely at ease with a company tracking their preferences and location. Acquiring the data can also be quite costly. In terms of technology, mobile hardware capabilities, services-oriented architecture and social networking are already steering the market in that direction – it’s important to partner with the right software developers in order to anticipate and then meet the future demand,” he explains.
THE LOCAL CONTEXT
In the SA context, the principle challenge seems to be the wide-range of demographics in the country. According to Parry, “The South African marketplace is extremely diverse – demographic information is hard to segment and target. Context-aware applications will allow companies to fine tune their marketing efforts to exactly the right audience at the right time in the right place, and can take factors such as location, literacy and language into account each time. In short, it can bring companies closer to their customers,” he says.
Explains Jones, “I think the main difference in SA is the very wide range of income and technology in the market. So companies will have to use forms of context that match the very broad consumer demographics. For example, location based mobile contextual services might use operator-based location and location-based SMS instead of apps on smartphones. But, the principles apply to all industries.”
He believes that pioneers will create new services and new customer relationships that will ultimately result in more revenue, better services, greater customer intimacy and so on. “It depends on the organisation’s business goals because context can be applied in many ways to support many different goals,” he explains.
Parry believes that if trust and privacy issues can be overcome, companies will be able to gain a customer base and community’s loyalty immediately. “In short, companies can move beyond customer insight and enter the sphere of customer intimacy – knowing exactly what a customer might need, at any given time,” he says.
According to Omar, pioneers will be able to differentiate their services faster than their competition by giving each customer a personalised experience. “This will improve customer retention and provide the platform for easier cross-sell and upsell of services to their customers by understanding the needs of their customers at a particular point in time. Business will experience a higher success rate associated with campaigns delivered to their target market,” he says.
To achieve this, he says, organisations need to identify processes that can be enhanced by being context-aware to differentiate services being delivered to customers. “These are services that will have the greatest business benefit by being differentiated to the customer,” he states.
Parry suggests a three-step approach, where companies first determine if their current strategies and initiatives can actually be improved by adopting context-aware computing. “There has to be measurable business benefits to adopting the strategy. Start small – perhaps by using the data to improve your call centre follow-ups or marketing efforts- and build on that. Secondly, speak to your local software developers about the technology. Make sure that the platform you are using to design the application allows building and using context-aware business applications and ease of use. You’d be surprised how many talented local software developers in South Africa are actually leading the field of context-aware computing. Lastly, start planning for innovation as soon as possible.”
“No company can claim to have perfected the secret to ‘context-aware’ marketing as of yet, but that makes experimentation in the field all the more crucial. Don’t be afraid to lead the race,” Parry concludes.
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