Are QR codes really just ‘Quite Rubbish?’ Are Google’s Goggles glorified nonsense? World Finance explores how established and emerging technology can better business with the Technology Awards 2012
Anyone who has ever cursed the failure of a fax machine, a dial-up internet connection or a personal computer running out of battery knows the value of innovative, 21st-century technology. In fact, most would be hard pressed to remember how business ever got by without it. World Finance has selected some of those technology firms who have really helped to make business and financial institutions tick over the last few months.
We have seen the power of technology on business and the power of social media on society; the birth of the smartphone and the tablet have changed the way we work in an organisation, but developments don’t stop there. Those firms that have automated processes have been rewarded with healthier bottom lines, supporting the wider industry network.
Technology is one of the most important aspects of business. Being able to respond quickly, act pre-emptively, thoroughly please customers and enable optimal communication and collaboration, both within and without the organisation, is often what separates successful businesses from mediocre ones. With the help of the magazine’s readership, World Finance has highlighted those organisations at the forefront of the industry.
There have been many changes and developments to the application of technology over the past few years. When Netflix announced it was changing its pricing structure, its customers revolted, posting 82,000 negative comments across its blogs and on Facebook and Twitter. Within months the company lost 800,000 customers and two-thirds of its market value.
Becoming a social enterprise isn’t just about logging onto Facebook, nor is it about hiring a few people and giving them free reign on your company’s Twitter feed
Successful technology companies remain aware of customers’ needs, and the continual shift in expectations. On top of this, customers are turning to social media to announce their disapproval of uncompetitive systems. “Rather than fear this shift, we must use it to stay closer to customers, connect to them and engage with them in entirely new ways,” said Marc Benioff, Chairman and Chief Executive of Salesforce.com. “The companies that will be successful in the future recognise the need for fundamentally changing the way they engage with their customers and are transforming themselves into social enterprises and radically altering the way they manage their business.
Becoming a social enterprise isn’t just about logging onto Facebook, nor is it about hiring a few people and giving them free reign on your company’s Twitter feed: “Social can’t be an add-on,” said Benioff. “It must be a strategy that is integrated into business processes across the organisations.
“For example, the way today’s HR systems manage and motivate employees must be reconfigured, as it doesn’t represent how today’s workforce wants to be managed. New graduates entering the workforce are frequently appalled by the technology their employers use to run their companies. They want to collaborate with the best people across their organisation and to have real-time access to information, just like they have in their personal lives. As a result, employees will be more aligned, efficient and effective in meeting the company’s business goals.”
According to McKinsey, companies that adopt social technologies can see a 50 percent increase in customer satisfaction, 48 percent increase in business leads and 24 percent increase in revenue. Burberry is putting social at the heart of its business and creating a digital end-to-end solution called Burberry World, which connects customers, suppliers and vendors to the brand. KLM, one of the world’s largest airlines, has also unleashed the power of social media. In one innovative campaign, the company engaged customers by encouraging them to check into the airport on Twitter, and rewarded them with a small, personalised gift to enjoy on the trip. The good feeling impact translated as customer loyalty and there was a powerful ripple effect: the airline’s Twitter feed was viewed more than one million times during the month of the campaign.
“With these kinds of results, the social revolution will become the biggest paradigm shift that we have ever seen,” said Benioff. “Companies that adopt these trends – companies that transform themselves into social enterprises – will connect with everything that is important and lead us into the future.”
Over recent months, QR codes have gained prominence for marketing tools, offering organisations the ability to transmit a large amount of information to customers and potential clients in an easily accessible format. Large corporations jumped on the bandwagon, but the technology isn’t without its critics. Guardian reporters Craig Villamor and Brad Frost argue most people look at QR codes and see ‘robot barf’, but marketers seem to think they are a must-have technology. “In their minds, eager consumers wander around with their mobiles, wherever they appear, as it takes little effort to scan these square codes,” they said. “As a result, they appear just about everywhere, and often in some really absurd places.”
QR purists have argued that when used well, QR codes can be an effective way of getting a message across or helping consumers. “The potential for QR is limitless,” says marketing and business consultant Jeff Korhen. “What’s most exciting is how they take what social media is doing now, bringing people together with technology, and extending it to enhance the experience. The next generation of barcodes will hold even more information – so much than an internet connection will not even be necessary. The content will be effectively embedded in the code. Imagine scanning a digital code to manifest physical reality? It’s amazing to consider where this can go.”
The image recognition technology supposedly set to secure the demise of QR has been dubbed ‘Project Glass’, a suitable name perhaps for the world’s first augmented reality smartglasses. Google unveiled the prototype back in April and the final product will bring together the search engine, GPS tracking, phone and camera for the first time.
With a small screen sitting just a few inches from the wearer’s eyes, the user will be able to see streamed real-time information, rather than a webpage. The advanced image recognition technology will enable the wearer to see reviews and opening times pop up if they direct their gaze at a restaurant, or images from the past will appear when looking at a historic building.
Wearable computing is a concept that has been emerging for some time, and well before that in science fiction. It’s the idea that eventually gadgets will become a part of us. While the general consensus of QR codes in advertising seems to be that it’s quite uninspired, the possibilities posed by the glasses are very exciting. “Companies can virtually place ads over other people’s,” said William Brinkman, Graduate Director of the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “I’m really interested in seeing how the government can successfully regulate augmented reality in this sense. They are not really going to know what people are seeing behind those glasses.”
Mark Changizi, a neurobiologist and the author of The Vision Revolution, added: “Right now we have everyone walking around focusing their vision on tiny four-inch screens held in their hands, scanning, taking photos and bumping into each other. Whatever Google does with Project Glass, it’ll surely be an improvement over that.”
When it comes to turning the phone into a wallet, many banks and other financial institutions have been attempting to construct new ways of offering products and services using technology at customers’ fingertips. A huge step forwards is Barclays own app Pingit, which allows anyone with a Barclays UK current account and mobile phone number to send and receive cash, without having to share bank details. A mobile phone can become the key to a bank account without the user having to hand over banking details to a payee.
“We can expect more apps, more innovation – and a certain amount of hype about the mobile phone becoming the centre of your financial life”
“The scheme has two features which make it stand out from previous initiatives, and could appeal to a mass audience,” says journalist Rory Cellan-Jones. “For a start, there is a real need being met – who hasn’t been part of that scrabbling around for cash when you sort out a restaurant bill, or try to pay the window cleaner? And then there is the fact that the technology – an app – is one with which anyone who has got a smartphone is now familiar. You don’t need to go out and get a new NFC handset, and pray your friends get one too.”
Rachel Springall, spokeswoman for comparison website Moneyfacts, said: “While this feature strives to be a secure service, customers need to ensure that they input the correct mobile number on outset and that they are careful when making transfers so as not to select the wrong amount. “It will be interesting to see how other lenders react to this release, especially since the launch of mobile banking as a whole has met many customers’ day-to-day banking needs.”
Fred Huet, of Greenwich Consulting said: “It will be interesting to see if customers take this up for larger payments consistently, rather than just for the occasional split bill.
Equally interesting is whether smaller merchants will adopt this for large payments, which would have bigger implications for the industry.” Other banks better keep a close eye out, according to Cellan-Jones. “We can expect more apps, more innovation – and a certain amount of hype about the mobile phone becoming the centre of your financial life,” he said. “But this time it might really be true.”
As the rate of new technologies aiding big business increases, the role of the support technology is becoming more and more prominent. With that in mind, World Finance’s Technology Awards 2012 are a presentation of some of the most innovative, diverse, and cognizant organisations in operation today. The award panel considered each nominee’s research and development operations, and continual progress within their respective fields.
World Finance has invited some of the award winners to the London Stock Exchange to elaborate on some of their plans for the future. To enjoy some of the videos go to: