April 3rd, 2014 by Maria Minsker

At Build 2014 yesterday, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore introduced Cortana, a long awaited rival to Apple’s Siri (and Google Now). Based on a character from the video game Halo, Cortana will be available on Microsoft’s Windows Phone version 8.1, and will be able to perform the same basic functions as her competitors–and more. Though Microsoft is far from declaring victory in the race for the creator of the best personal digital assistant, there are already a few reasons why Apple and the like should be concerned.

The Notebook

When a user first interacts with Cortana, the system will go through a series of questions to gauge a thorough understanding of the individual’s preference–his or her favorite type of food, preferred genre of music, and other lifestyle questions. This initial information, along with other behavioral data that Cortana collects over time, will be stored in her “Notebook,” a knowledge database that the system will rely on to deliver more personalized search results. The Notebook is also pretty transparent, and allows users to change privacy settings simply by say something like “Cortana, I don’t want you to know that information.”

Multistep Search

Like Siri, Cortana can respond to voice prompts and search the Web for things like nearby restaurants or movie show times. For example, if a user says, “Find good restaurant nearby,” Cortana will pull up the listing for the restaurant the user is most likely to enjoy. Note that unlike Siri, which returns a list, Cortana returns one result, which is based on the data she collected in her Notebook as well as on Yelp reviews. Also unlike Siri, Cortana can then take the search one step further. Once the restaurant listing is displayed, the user can say “Get directions there,” and Cortana will understand that “there” refers to the restaurant she just pulled up. This multistep search is an impressive innovation that creates more of a conversational feel, rather than a series of disjunctive searches.


“Like any good assistant and Apple’s Siri,” The Verge’s Tom Warren writes, “Cortana’s personality shines through in daily use. Ask her, ‘Who’s your father?’ and Cortana will reply, ‘Technically speaking, that’d be Bill Gates. No big deal.’ Other queries produce witty responses, and some answers make the circular character spring to life and animate with one of 16 emotions. Cortana won’t always respond with emotion and animations, but Microsoft envisions a future where she reacts visually to sports scores or other events — any good assistant knows to be pumped when a football team wins and furious when they lose, and so does Cortana now,” he explains.

Contact-Connected Reminders

Cortana’s reminder capabilities are deeper than Siri’s as well. She can perform basic functions like remind users about meetings and appointments, but can generate more nuanced reminders as well. For example, if a users asks Cortana to remind him to speak to his boss about a certain project, Cortana can deliver the reminder alert the next time the boss calls the user, or the user calls his boss.

A Future Integration with Third Party Apps

Soon, Cortana will most likely have control over third party apps as well, and give users the ability to perform functions within apps directly through voice prompts. The integration would “[allow] users to simply say, ‘Hulu, show me the latest episode of Modern Family’ and the app will launch with the latest episode, rather like the way voice search works on Xbox,” Warren writes. “Combined with the reminders,” he says, “it’s an example of how useful and powerful speech is when it’s done right.”

An Eventual Connection to XBOX and Windows-Powered Computers

As Microsoft continues to improve Cortana and build on the new feature, a connection to the XBOX Kinect as well as to computers that run Windows seems inevitable. That level of integration and seamlessness, in my personal opinion, will deliver a whole new kind of user experience.


April 2nd, 2014 by Sarah Sluis

Ray Kurzweil Gartner BICalled the “Thomas Edison of our time,” Ray Kurzweil is a legendary inventor and futurist, whose many inventions include groundbreaking discoveries in speech technology. In a keynote speech to the crowd at the Gartner Business Intelligence (BI) Summit, he casually reminded audiences they have reason to pay attention: Of the 147 predictions he made about the year 2009 in the 1980s and 1990s, 86 percent of them came true. One that didn’t? Self-driving cars, which had driven plenty of miles in 2009 via Google’s tests, but were not yet available on the market. More on what self-driving cars have to do with BI later.

Kurzweil spoke of dazzling things—tiny robots that would replace red blood cells, making it possible for people to stay underwater for hours or run Olympic sprints. How 3D printing will create on-demand clothes, disrupting the retail market. How machine learning, like Watson, will become vastly more accurate and powerful. How the future of computer processing will be 3D, self-organizing molecular circuits. To understand and predict the future, Kurzweil uses what he calls the law of accelerating returns, which holds that information technology improves at an exponential rate.

In the near future, that means it’s important for businesses to understand how much faster, powerful, or cheaper their information technology will become over time. Even as computing capacity “deflates” nearly fifty percent every couple years, demand continues to rise, creating new opportunities and new areas to conquer. What was Big Data today will be trivial tomorrow. During a presentation, HortonWorks’ Will Hayes referred to “zettabytes of data” as part of the future. According to some estimates, the entire world wide web is just four zettabyes of data—at the moment. “Hadoop didn’t disrupt data,” Hayes told the audience. “New types of data disrupt the data center.”

One of those new types of data is sensor data, which will multiply as the Internet of Things becomes less of a buzzword and more of a reality. Already, machines send back information on thousands (or more) types of information. And sensor data is just one part of a huge data ecosystem, which sees companies combining information from internal CRM or ERP systems with external data about weather, census, and economic forecasts, along with other detailed, often unstructured information like weblogs from Internet browsing and social media data. Gartner’s W. Roy Schulte noted that ten years ago, banks would collect information on 60 attributes. Today, they collect over 400 attributes. Using Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns, it appears there’s an exponential relationship at work—in ten years, could companies be collecting information on thousands of attributes?

So now to my final question: What do self-driving cars have to do with BI? Self-driving cars use machine learning in order to develop smarter techniques to travel the road. Machine learning is already in use today in the analytics world. Using Splunk, which helps companies analyze machine data, payroll and benefits administration company ADP was able to harness machine learning to evaluate the performance of their mobile application and realize new insights. For example, many people were clicking from their current pay statement to a previous one, in order to compare. ADP added a side-by-side comparison tool in order to respond to the user behavior. Machine learning is also behind hard-to-quantify potential data sources, like facial recognition and speech analysis, making it a both a future data source and a future way to perform analysis.

Self-driving cars epitomize the future of BI: one in which machines, not humans, categorize data and make decisions. BI started out merely descriptive. Then it became predictive, offering possible outcomes or assessing risk, like giving a potential credit card customer a score based on their history. The next step, and one that’s been heavily emphasized by Gartner researchers at the conference, is prescriptive analytics, in which computers would tell people what action to take based on analytics. And is that any different than trusting a car can drive you to your destination better than you?

March 27th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

As the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit comes to a close in Salt Lake City, I’m back in NYC reflecting on a few days of total submergence in a marketing mecca. What were some of the biggest takeaways from this year’s summit? From introspective customer testimonials to optimistic predictions from company heads, I bring you the top 10 marketing mantras from the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit.

1. “As customers, our tolerance for bad experiences is extremely low and our expectations are extremely high.”

- Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe


2. “Big data is dead if there is no thread connecting it.”

- Vishal Sikka, member of the executive board at SAP, commenting on the new strategic partnership between Adobe and SAP. Together, the two companies plan to launch joint solutions in the area of big data analytics, and transform customer data into actionable insight more efficiently.


3. “One of the biggest problems with marketing is that it is organized with the means, not the end in mind. As marketers, you need to unlearn marketing as you know it. You need to imagine a world in which marketing was not invented until just now.”

- Brad Rencher, senior vice president of digital marketing business at Adobe

4. “Continuous delivery is a revolution. It’s about shaping business in a way so that the whole team gets involved.”

- Jeff Titus, general manager of Audi, an Adobe customer, explaining how Audi adds technologies that make sense in the context of consumers’ driving experiences

5. “Mobile can serve as a record keeper and as a bridge between brick and mortar and e-commerce experiences.”

- Julie Bornstein, CMO at Sephora, an Adobe customer, discussing how the company leverages mobile for its beauty insider loyalty program and keeps track of customers’ cosmetic preferences through its app.


6. “It’s not just about giving people the tools and technology they need to make something happen. It’s about what they do with those things that’s truly exciting.”

- Yancey Strickler, CEO of KickStarter, rounding out a series of conversations with Adobe customers with a reminder about the power of technology to influence society.

7. “To reach digital maturity, you need to have the 3 P’s. The best in class people, process, and product.”

- John Mellor, vice president of business development and strategy at Adobe

8. “Seventy percent of a customer’s opinion is already formed before they interact with [a company].

- Mike Rude, director of customer experience marketing at Fedex, an Adobe customer.


(Photo courtesy of Adobe)

9. “There’s always a plan to engage the audience. But sometimes you have to give it real.”

- Richard Sherman, cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, reflecting on managing his image after skyrocketing to fame following his infamous interview with Erin Andrews and subsequent Super Bowl victory.


10. “Not taking a risk is a risk. Risks are what propels you forward.”

- Robert Redford, actor and film director.

For more on the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit, check out my coverage of day one and day two, and follow CRM magazine on Twitter @CRM.

March 26th, 2014 by Sarah Sluis

As the leader of a software company founded when 1970s IBM Mainframes offered the height of computer processing, SAS CEO Dr. Goodnight has seen computing power grow exponentially for over four decades. In fact, according to him, it’s gotten to the SAS CEO Dr. Goodnightpoint where Moore’s Law, which holds that memory capacity and processing speed will double every two years, is reaching its limit. Chips can’t get much smaller: Intel’s Ivy Bridge chips 22 nanometers. UV Light etches the chip, so chips can’t be smaller than a ray of light. “X-Rays start at around five nanometers, so we’re getting very close to the limit,” Goodnight says. Instead, the number of cores on each chip is growing exponentially, a hardware upgrade that fascinates Goodnight. SAS meanwhile, continues to grow, and is among the largest privately-held software companies around.

In a chat with Dr. Goodnight, who reported he was attending his thirty-ninth SAS conference, we discussed what he’s excited about, how far the industry has come, and his keys to success.

  1. Empower your people. “One of the accomplishments I’m really proud of is being named as a great place to work. Not just an average place to work, a great place to work, I like that,” he says. Benefits for SAS employees include on-site health care, day care, a fitness center, a farm, and a commitment to work-life balance. Goodnight’s leadership style is also about giving, not taking. “I like to give everyone that works for me lots of room to maneuver, I’m not a ‘do it my way or the highway’ kind of person, I’m very easygoing. I’ll let people make mistakes or not do a great job for a year or two. I like to empower the people who work for me to get the job done.
  2. Amazon and Google are on his cool company list. “I respect Jeff Bezos from Amazon and Larry and Sergey from Google,” he says, both of which are SAS customers. Google, which is also famous for its benefits, even took a lesson from SAS when it formalized its workplace culture. “Google modeled a lot of their human resources after us. Before they were public, their HR department visited us, and spent a day or so with us, just benchmarking what we did.”
  3. Hadoop is just beginning, but SAS is prepared. When it comes to another meaning of Big Data, the use of unstructured data like Hadoop (that SAS has made efforts to bring in to the analytical fold), he sees the promise as still emerging. It’s “at limited usefulness at current times,” while noting there has been progress in some other areas like sentiment analysis, which can do thinks like analyze tweets for positive or negative content.
  4. SAS has always been ‘Big Data.’ “We’ve always dealt with large amounts of data,” he chuckles. “When the term big data was coined, we said, ‘We can’t call it ‘a whole lot of data’ anymore, we have to call it ‘Big Data.’ He also clarifies that when it comes to the types of analytics SAS specializes in, it’s not just the amount of data that takes time to process, it’s the amount of equations carried out on the data. “New algorithms come on the scene all the time, and most of them are even more computationally intensive than before.”

For more coverage from this year’s SAS Global Forum Executive Conference, check out my posts on their product updates and the highlights from the keynote speeches.

March 20th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Twitter is celebrating its eighth birthday tomorrow, and to honor the social network’s big day, I offer you, in no particular order, a list of the eight most engaging consumer brands that tweet. From the funniest updates to the most attentive customer responses, these brands’ feeds are models for delivering great social customer experiences.

1.     DiGiorno Pizza (@DiGiornoPizza)

A little humor goes a long way, but on Twitter, a little live-tweeting goes even further. DiGiorno is the resident funny man on this list, and earns bonus points because the brand takes every opportunity to raise brand awareness by live-tweeting highly publicized events. During the last Super Bowl, for example, the company tweeted:


2.     Oreo Cookies (@Oreo)

Speaking of the Super Bowl, Oreo famously stole the show in 2012 when the game was delayed for 35 minutes due to a black out. Not only was the tweet witty, but it was also on-brand and included a visual component. Throwing together a clever campaign centered around a creative image equals major brownie points. Or rather, cookie points, right?


3.     Nike (@Nike)

Nike makes the list for connecting with clients on an emotional level. This brand’s Twitter feed is like your own personal motivational message board. Plus, it’s sassy!

On Valentine’s Day this year, Nike tweeted:

Move Reminder: You’ve got a date with your Nike+ FuelBand. No chocolates necessary.

 4.     Charmin Toilet Paper (@Charmin)

Making discussions about going to the bathroom socially acceptable one day at a time, Charmin’s  definitely got this tweeting thing down. The company’s biggest accomplishment? Its #tweetfromtheseat campaign, which encourages followers to share funny bathroom experiences and images by using the hashtag. The campaign breeds not only brand awareness, but also engagement and offers plenty of entertainment value too.

 5.     Delta Airlines (@DeltaAssist)

Airlines get a ton of flak from customers (sometimes rightfully so), but few handle it better than Delta. As of today, Delta’s got 19 employees responding to tweets, and all of their names are listed in the wallpaper image on the company’s feed page. Most complaints are responded to very quickly, with a representative asking the customer to send a direct message with specific information and questions to the @deltaassist handle so that the issue can be resolved.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.32.53 AM

6.     Coca-cola (@Cocacola)

 Demonstrating how to be a truly international brand, Coca-Cola tweets in different languages from time to time. The brand also makes it a priority to bring people together through sports, often commenting on different sporting events throughout the world. Earlier this month, for example, the company started a #CricketWithCoke hashtag just in time for the Asia Cup Cricket Tournament.

7.     lululemon athletica (@lululemon)

While many brands just use Twitter to push out promotional content, lululemon shares updates that position it as not simply a brand, but also a lifestyle, which builds a deeper connection with customers. The company doesn’t just tweet out product information and traditional marketing messages, but also posts yoga videos, provides fashion tips, and the occasional recipe or food photo.

8.     Dos Equis Beer (@DosEquis)

Known for their “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials on television, Dos Equis demonstrates how to create continuity throughout a multichannel campaign. Riffing off of the concept used in the television ads, the brand tweets out additional fun facts about the Most Interesting Man in the World. Earlier this month, the company informed followers that:

When he brings home the bacon, he also brings the filet mignon.

The brand also holds contests, and invites fans to submit ideas for what the Most Interest Man should “do” next.


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