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A no-BS guide to innovation

By LEE NAIK, TransUnion Africa CEO

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If there’s anything that my time as a digital transformation leader has taught me, it’s that everyone is a lot iffier about innovation than they let on. Every good business leader knows that innovation is necessary, but the truth is that we’re currently in an economy that doesn’t necessarily make that easy. South Africa’s 2018 GDP growth came in at 0.8% and with similar levels of growth projected for 2019 at best, it is understandable that business appetite for taking on questionable ROI projects is at a low. This inevitably results in innovation taking the backseat, again.

During a recent lecture I gave at the Gordon Institute of Business Science on Practical Lessons on Digital Transformation, the questions from the post-graduate audience from across the private and public sector got me wondering whether information was really being shared across the industry on what was working and what was not when it came to innovation.

Of course, if we get innovation right then we could be opening up new paths to business relevance and growth. It is without doubt impossible to remove risk from innovation – but it is possible to understand and execute it better.

So here’s my no BS take on innovation – the dos, the don’ts and the what-they-don’t-tell-yous. I would like to hear your feedback on additional lessons you may have learnt.

Who’s responsible for Innovation?

One of the biggest questions asked when it comes to innovation is who’s responsible for it? Is it the CEO, the CIO or the business leads? Innovation is everyone’s responsibility and not something that leadership owns. Of course, we need leadership’s commitment to drive innovation, but when everyone tries to innovate within their areas of responsibility across the operating model, then there is benefit to be had. We often forget that innovation does not always have to mean shiny and new – it can also be a change to how the business currently runs.

How do you show commitment to Innovation?

Innovation cannot be boxed into a 2 hour slot once a month – we need to intrinsically change the culture of the business and be committed to being innovative. This requires a multi-fold change to your approach to running the business including:• Removing the airs and graces of leadership and being open to ideas emanating from any part of the organisation – innovative ideas shouldn’t have boundaries• Create the opportunity for the business to periodically adjust commitments to budgets and take on new projects linked to innovative ideas that make sense for the business• Take the time to share and engage with all employees on what’s not working or where we think opportunities may lie – oftentimes ideas will show up from people you never thought would have such ideas• Take the time to teach employees simple techniques like Issue Base Problem Solving or Design Thinking to help them become part of the innovation culture• Create a platform for employees to showcase the innovation in existing town-halls and promote a culture of recognition for innovation, regardless of whether the idea will fail or succeed


Creating space for employees to be Innovative

It is all well and good that we show a commitment to Innovation and ask employees to be innovative during the course of doing their jobs. Sometimes, we need to stop and create space for our employees to engage with their colleagues on some of the challenges or opportunities that we need to focus on as a business. Some ideas that seem to work for many organisations include:• Creating regular time in the diaries for teams to reflect, engage and challenge the status of projects currently underway with a leadership commitment to stop ideas that don’t make sense anymore• Getting cross-functional teams into the same physical space from time to time to allow them to engage. Sometimes leaving leadership out of these engagements allows the teams to truly think through constraint free innovation


How do you Convince your Leadership to Take a Chance?

I come across many individuals during my industry engagements or during a talk that I am giving that ask me what they should do to convince the leadership of their company to be more committed to innovation. Below are some of the suggestions that seem to work:• Most business leaders do not understand innovation, technology or anything digital – a sweeping statement but not completely incorrect. Presenting your idea to the business leadership or even to the CEO in a language that can be understood is half the trick. Business leaders talk revenue, margins, market expansion, effectiveness, efficiencies and growth. To convince your business to support innovation may require you to take the time to learn a common language in which to present your idea• Traditional businesses do not like to be on the bleeding edge of anything and are happy to wait for innovative concepts to mature. Find case studies and even comparisons with what competitors may be doing to get your business leadership to stop and take notice of your idea. Some leaders react when they hear “Our competitors are already doing it”


How do you measure innovation success?

Innovation is a commitment to a new way of working. That new way of working should contain key metrics to figure out whether it’s working. In my experience, measuring innovation should be intrinsically part of how we measure productivity of the business. Some ideas to consider include:• How much time does business allow for employees to present ideas for innovation?• How many innovative ideas have been captured and how many have been adopted into the business product or project roadmap?• Are you measuring effectiveness and efficiencies in the business? This assumes you are baselining critical business processes and have a regular check in to say how the business is progressing.


How Do you Drive Innovation when the Budget is Limited?

Innovation seems to be a natural scapegoat when it comes to dealing with budget cuts. If it is meant to be part of the culture of your business, then it can’t be optional and shouldn’t be dropped in tough times. One of the techniques that I learnt back in my consulting days, is that there are always opportunities to create some form of costing savings through low hanging fruits. Most businesses that are getting innovation right take some of these savings to drive margin improvement or deal with other challenges but they always channel some of these savings to fund further innovation. In this way employees and teams are encouraged to find innovative ways to be more effective and efficient and create their own budgets to fund innovation – something that CEOs will sign up to all day long.

So that’s my start on some of the questions that businesses and need to consider to help us realise our potential.

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Nokia 7.2: The sweet-spot for mid-range smartphones

Nokia has hit one of the best quality-to-price ratios with the Nokia 7.2. BRYAN TURNER tested the device.

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Cameras are often the main factor in selecting a smartphone today. Nokia is no stranger to the high-end camera smartphone market, and its legacy shows with the latest Nokia 7.2.

In many aspects, the device looks and feels like an expensive flagship, yet it carries a mid-range R6000 price tag. From its vivid PureDisplay technology to an ultra-wide camera lens, it’s quite something to experience this device – especially knowing the price.

Before powering it on, one notices the sleek design. The front features a large, 6.3” screen, with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Like many phones nowadays, it features a notch, but it is smaller than the usual earpiece-and-camera notch. Instead, it features a small notch for the front camera only. It hides the front earpiece away in a slim cutout, just under the outer frame. While it’s not the highest screen-to-body (STB) ratio, it has a pretty slim bezel with an 83.34% STB ratio. It loses some of this to an elegant chin on the bottom that shows the Nokia logo. This is all protected by a Gorilla glass certification, which makes it a little more difficult to shatter on an impact.

It’s encased by a Polycarbonate composite outer frame, which seems metal-like but will withstand more knocks than an aluminium frame. On the right side, it features a volume rocker and a power button and, on the left side, a Google Assistant button, which starts listening for commands when pressed. Above the button is the SIM and SD card tray. On the top, it houses a very welcome 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom, it has a speaker grille and a USB Type-C port. Overall, the positioning of the buttons takes some getting used to because the Assistant button and power button are similarly sized, and many smartphones place the lock button on the opposite side of the volume rocker.

The back features a frosted Gorilla glass panel, like the front. The frosted design is quite understated and yet another elegant design feature of the device. A fingerprint sensor sits in the middle and, towards the top, the device has a circular camera bump, not too different from the Huawei Mate 30 series. The bump features two lenses, a depth sensor, and a flash. The camera system has been made in partnership with Zeiss optics to produce high-quality photography.

The back of the Nokia 7.2, showing off the 3 camera array

When powering on the device, one is greeted with the Android One logo, which is Nokia’s promise that its users will always be among the first to get the latest Android security and feature updates. This is one of the defining purchase points for users looking to get this device, as it features the purest, unedited version of Android available.

This, in turn, allows the device to run the latest software by Google that enables the device to get better over time. This is done by using Google’s Artificial Intelligence engine, which learns how one uses the device and optimises apps and services accordingly. That translates to the phone’s battery life actually extending over time, instead of deteriorating like other smartphones that are weighed down by battery hungry apps. The concept was pioneered by Huawei in the Mate 9.

The rear camera is excellent for snapping pictures and features a 48MP Sony sensor for accurate colour reproduction. This puts the device in the league of the Google Pixel and Apple iPhone devices, which also use Sony sensors. By default, the device is set to take pictures at 12MP, which is what makes the photos look great, as it blends 4 pixels into one for a high level of sharpness and colour accuracy, but users can bump up the resolution to the full 48MP if they want to zoom in a bit more.

The 8MP wide-angle lens spans 118-degrees, and proves extremely useful for getting everyone in the shot. It also features some great colour accuracy. The 5MP depth-sensing lens is purely for the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo. It features a 20MP selfie camera, which also provides excellent sharpness and a portrait mode.

Picture taken with the Nokia 7.2 in Pro mode

The most impressive part of this system is the Pro camera setting, which can help take photos from excellent to extraordinary. We managed to get some excellent low light photography by adjusting the shutter speed, ISO, and exposure. The setting is pretty easy to use and it’s worth it for users to learn how it works.

The PureDisplay also helps make photos and video look great. The 7.2’s PureDisplay has a 2160 x 1080 resolution, at 401 pixels per inch (ppi). It also makes use of HDR10 and covers 96% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, which makes the colours very vibrant. Some of these display features are not even found in some high-end phones on the market, so it’s very surprising that this tech is in a mid-range device.

At this price, there is one drawback: the processor. It houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is neither bad nor good. It performs well in many situations, but begins to stutter on heavier graphical applications like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile. That said, all other applications of the device work perfectly, and multi-tasking is very fluid between regular apps.

At a recommended selling price of R6,000, the Nokia 7.2 is one of the most feature rich and aesthetically pleasing devices available in this price range.

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Voice interface moves digital wars to ‘first mile’

By RICHARD MULLINS, Managing Director for EMEA at Acceleration

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Anyone who often travels on the London tube will notice people around them – usually students and young professionals – speaking into their smartphones even in sections of the underground without Wi-Fi or cellular coverage. They’re not sweet-talking their mobile devices, but cueing up a series of WhatsApp voice messages to be sent to their friends and colleagues as soon as they walk back into an area with an Internet connection.

This shift away from text-based and visual communication to multi-sensory (voice and visual) is one of the most significant trends to emerge from the next wave of artificial intelligence technologies. Many members of Generations X and Y abandoned voice calls for instant messaging once they got smartphones; now, the next generation are becoming more vocal in how they interact with – and through – machines.

We’re already seeing rising adoption of conversational voice interfaces, as young and imperfect as the technology still is. Research from comScore predicts that half of all searches will be performed via voice by 2020, while a study by Voicebot.ai indicates that nearly one in five US adults own a smart speaker or have access to one in their homes.

This trend is one reason that we are seeing the battle for the digital customer move away from the ‘last mile’ to the ‘first mile’ at a rapid speed. Now that the giants of ecommerce have largely solved the ‘last mile’ challenge of reliable logistics and rapid delivery, they are looking at ways they can tighten their grip on the first digital mile, where customers engage with and discover content, product and services.

Raising the stakes

This race to own the customer interface is not new, but the stakes are rising. We already live in a world with two major smartphone platforms (Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android), and now a handful of companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon) are seeking to own the voice interface with smart devices like speakers, kitchen appliances and home security systems.

Most consumers are today using voice conversation interfaces for simple content requests – Alexa, give me the news headlines; Siri, play my party mix – and the experience can be somewhat clunky. However, technology is improving exponentially, as we saw earlier this year when Google demoed its assistant phoning a hairdresser to make an appointment on behalf of a user.

Such interfaces are likely to become the place where a high proportion of customers are converted and complete transactions in the next few years. In other words, the likes of Apple and Google will have even more power over what consumers see, hear and interact with than they do today. Brands should be thinking about how they will prepare themselves for this future.

One of the first considerations is how they can use voice to engage with customers in an increasingly natural and simple nature. Today, it is usually easy to tell when you are speaking to a virtual assistant or chatbot, but in future, these interfaces will become harder to tell humans and machines apart, unless you are told.

This is an opportunity to offer personalised service in an automated manner—the human touch at machine scale. Brands that offer the best experiences through their conversational interfaces will have a competitive advantage. This will not just be about the AI driving the interaction, but also about how brands use data to personalise interactions and make them more relevant to customers.

How will you reach your customers?

Brands also need to decide how they will reach their customers in the first place – will they create services for platforms like Alexa and focus on mobile apps? Or will they try to take control of more of the digital first mile themselves? This will be a daunting challenge, but the rewards may be significant since the companies in the digital first mile will control the data and own the customer.

For this reason, we can expect to see those companies with the resources to do so focus on owning more of the customer interface and becoming the gateways to service and commerce for their client base. They will partner with other big brands to create platforms, experiences and digital destinations where customers can purchase a variety of goods and services.

Consider examples such as how Discovery’s Vitality weaves together healthcare, lifestyle brands and financial services, then think about how they might evolve in a digital world. Brands have long cooperated through strategies such as white label products, sponsorship agreements and distribution deals, but the next wave of digital change will take it to a new level.

As this shakes out in the years to come, brands will need to focus on building a technical architecture that enables them to rapidly partner with other brands to roll out innovative solutions and services. They will also need to consider how and where they will capture customer data and which touchpoints they can use to own the customer relationship.

The challenges will not be purely technical in nature. There is the human element of blending AI and people into ‘teams’ that deliver the best possible customer experience. Companies will also need to think about their business models and where they fit into the value chain. Those that align AI and data behind a coherent business strategy will be the ones who will win the first digital mile.

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