By Ahmad Sayed, MEA Regional Director at Nexign.
With the blockchain expected to contribute almost $1 billion to the telecoms sector within the next five years, the technology clearly offers more than just a vehicle for cryptocurrency. From Smart Contracts to speeding up inter-carrier settlements, the blockchain has the potential to reshape the telecoms environment for the digital age.
Already, we are starting to see relationships being established between service providers, telecoms operators, and the like to reinvent how business support systems (BSS) are delivered. An example of this is the recent exclusive partnership between Nexign and Bubbletone to develop an industry-first blockchain-based BSS solution for the telecom sector.
This sees the establishment of a global marketplace that facilitates the secure exchange of financial and identity information between mobile network operators and service providers. This will enable roaming users to instantly purchase service packages using their existing SIM card. And with the price levels to reflect customer demand, the ‘home’ communication service provider (CSP) will still be able to retain its existing clients.
For CSPs, the blockchain provides significant technological enhancements. For one, it provides a more secure and scalable environment with global connectivity. Considering that a blockchain essentially links records (blocks) using cryptography, it is a safer way to store subscriber identity information.
Secondly, the blockchain provides CSPs with a better way to optimise costs. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can be managed through the blockchain. If certain conditions are not met, automated actions can be taken created a significantly smoother process.
It also unlocks new revenue opportunities thanks to the growth of the Internet of Things, verification services, mobile money transfers, and other digital asset transactions. The blockchain will also result in the establishment of new revenue models to provide further platforms for growth.
Outside the telecoms environment, the blockchain can provide opportunities for industry verticals. From enabling financial services transactions on mobile devices to directly paying for utilities and other accounts, it offers a key enabler for technology. Ultimately, this could accelerate the growth of smart cities with e-services becoming more secure and directly linked between service provider and customer.
Several mobile phone manufacturers are already introducing blockchain-based devices. Some feature built-in wallets (secured through the blockchain) while others see the establishment of a blockchain-based operating system and communications protocol for making calls, sending messages, and transmitting data.
Contracts done smarter
Even though the notion of Smart Contracts as a benefit of the blockchain is nothing new, the potential it provides for SLA management are especially useful for the telecoms industry. Legal staff can use a template to create a contract with technical staff using the validated electronic contract to transform it into a Smart Contract.
The SLA can focus on the fulfilment of certain conditions. If these are not met, funds placed in escrow by the two parties can then automatically be paid out according to the contract. Because this can be managed programmatically, it is a more effective way of managing contracts. While the market is still a few years away from seeing this go mainstream, the potential is there.
Click here to read research about blockchain’s applications in Africa.
Meanwhile in Africa, research has shown that internal migration is driven by the need for jobs, often in neighbouring countries. This, together with new technologies such as e-SIMS (an embedded or electronic SIM card built into a mobile phone), create an environment where CSPs are looking for ways to maintain their subscriber base while still investing in their networks.
This creates an ideal environment for new solutions to be developed that cater for an increasingly connected customer base. As such, the blockchain is perfectly positioned for this. According to the United Nations, investment in the blockchain increased from $1 million in 2012 to $550 million by the end of 2016. Part of this growth can be attributed to the evolving technological landscape in Africa.
Ever since the advent of mobile communications, people have become less reliant on landline infrastructure for calls. Given how digital transformation is further adding impetus to a shift in use cases, the blockchain can help African CSPs meet specific requirements around how communication is taking place in a connected environment.
These various elements combine to require the development of a commercial solution that can assist operators to further develop and refine blockchain-related offerings that maintain their subscriber base while at the same time sees investment in their network.
For BSS providers, it is about investing in specific use cases of the blockchain as it relates to CSPs. For example, establishing a global marketplace addressing many of the challenges (and opportunities) in the sector will create more revenue potential for operators.
CSPs can become the backbone for this dynamic new blockchain economy. As the underlying foundation for all communication in Africa, they are in a strong position to drive a first-to-market advantage, develop new business models, and work with organisations of all sizes irrespective of industry sector.
However, to do so, they need to have a strategic vision in place for how they want to leverage the blockchain. Combined with a solid roadmap and collaboration with their partners in the BSS landscape, they can harness new opportunities and drive their business in the digital future.
Stop being creepy! An essential guide for digital marketers
Advertising and marketing is becoming increasingly creepy as personalisation strategies lose the plot, writes JOAN OSTERLOH, authorised Forrester Research Partner for South Africa.
Marketers need to be aware of the “creep factor” when deploying strategies of personalisation and individualisation in their marketing efforts, Forrester’s Brendan Witcher, VP and principal analyst serving eBusiness and channel strategy professionals, warned as early as December 2017.
Six months later, Forrester senior analyst Susan Bidel was even more direct in her message: “Marketers, you need to take control of your advertising strategies and adtech stacks now to better address today’s consumers.” She cautioned that those who didn’t, were at a high risk of annoying and creeping out the very customers needed for business growth.
In its latest research, “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces Erupt” Forrester now finds that even though marketers set out with the best intentions to implement customer-obsessed marketing and customer experience strategies, they still end up alienating and ‘creeping out’ customers, resulting in lost loyalty.
Marketers use personalisation to make their marketing more relevant and to help it stand out, Forrester says in a blog on the study. The irony is that with all the customer data that marketers use to personalise, the one thing they seem to have forgotten to find out from consumers is whether they even want personalised communication at all, the firm writes. Combined with identity resolution and increased automation, companies have created adtech and martech stacks that are creeping people out. We think our phones are listening to us. And then Facebook admits it is doing this. So, what’s gone wrong?
The report by Melissa Parrish, Forrester’s VP and group director serving marketing professionals, highlights that marketers are ignoring their customers’ desire for anonymity, by assuming that they all want personalised experiences. They are foregoing the authenticity of their own brands by “giving lip service to brand values they think resonate with customers.” There’s an overt focus on martech at the expense of human creativity. Lastly, they’re profiling customers on precarious connections and getting it wrong, sometimes with harmful and even traumatic results, she explains.
The solution is to return to true customer-centricity by going back to basics by looking at the following, Parrish writes in the report:
- Remember that customers are different. Here it’s not about customer segments or personas, but rather the extent to which they expect you to know them. Treat customers and prospects differently – e.g. prospects “want value, not a background check”.
- Customers are tired of lookalike ads and direct mail that is poorly personalised, trying to get them to buy things for which they’re not even in the market. Choose your target audience, focus on them, and then let go of the others.
- Programmatic marketing has its upsides and downsides. Avoid the two extremes of advertising at scale across multiple channels on the one hand and limiting advertising to channels where everyone seems to be at once, such as Facebook, on the other. Instead, target your audience with responsible content and choose platforms on which you can reach them online and offline.
- Consider whether you should be using cookie, key-stroke and audience data at all for your brand. Intent-based target marketing through search optimization might be a smarter choice.
- Don’t assume that personalisation will make customer experiences more relevant. Rather interview your customers and test different variations of personalised content to find the right balance between information, recommendations, simplicity and empathy.
- Don’t ignore the 20% who don’t want any personalisation at all – use your customer insights data to identify them, and then meet their expectation of no personalisation.
Parrish offers important recommendations for the winning marketers of the future. Since the success of marketing is measured by the bottom line of revenue generation, truly customer-obsessed marketers need KPIs that are “fine-tuned” to understand what customers value, not what’s valuable to the brand, she writes. What customers want and value should be defined in terms of four dimensions along the axes of functional-experiential, and economic-symbolic. Then, measure the dimensions along the entire customer life cycle, she explains. What this requires is the following:
Firstly, marketing and Customer Experience (CX) teams need to unify and leverage one another’s unique skills to deliver best-in-class customer experiences that drive loyalty, customer retention and growth. Truly customer-obsessed brands will bring CX and marketing together to harness the best that both have to offer.
Secondly, brands need to rebuild trust. As consumers become more privacy-savvy, they will become more selective about the brands with which they are willing to share their data. Marketers need to develop ‘Privacy Personas’ as a new marketing segment to ensure that they deliver experiences their customers are comfortable with.
Thirdly, refocus on creative excellence. In Parrish’s words “new prospecting strategies will center on great creative making an emotional impact and contextual targeting driving relevance.”
Lastly marketers need to find ways to extend customer obsession throughout the enterprise. Employees need to be empowered to deliver on the brand promise, which must align to and be in harmony with CX. The companies that thrive will be those whose CX truly reflects brand values, Parrish concludes.
Sources: “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces Erupt” 18 Sept 2019. By Melissa Parrish with Sharyn Leaver, Brigitte Majewski, Caroline Robertson, and Stephanie Liu.
Which should you use: PIN or Password?
By CHAD HAMMOND, a digital security expert at NordPass
As users of this digital age, we have many different choices. You can enable or disable web cookies, depending on how much information you want a website to gather about you. You can use encrypted services or unencrypted ones, depending on how much you’re concerned about your privacy and security.
You can also use a PIN (Personal Identification Number) or password to secure your digital devices or online accounts. However, in this particular case, the choice for most of us is not as straightforward as it seems.
The other day I also had the very same discussion among my friends with three different sides of opinion. One side was backing PINs and claiming that they are safer than passwords. Others couldn’t believe that PINs made up of four, six, or eight digits can be more reliable than long and complex passwords. And the third group was claiming that both PIN and password serve the same purpose of identification and are safe to use. All sides had valuable insights, but we couldn’t reach an agreement. Sparked by this discussion, I decided to look deeper into this topic and look for the truth.
When should you use a PIN?
PIN stands for a Personal Information Number and is used the same as a password to prove that you have the right to access your data. A PIN usually consists of a string of four to eight numbers, and it was first introduced in the 1960s together with cash machines (ATMs). The obvious drawback is that a PIN is limited to 0-9 numerical digits. A PIN made up of four numbers offers 10,000 possible combinations. That may seem like an easy nut to crack, but it’s not as straightforward.
PINs are normally used on touchscreen devices and always require manual data entry. An automated brute-force attack may not work as most of the systems that use a PIN also specify maximum attempts count before disabling the device.
For example, if your device limits PIN entry to six attempts, there is a 0.06% chance that someone will be lucky enough to crack the four-digit code. Of course, if your PIN is ‘0000’ or ‘1234,’ the probability of being hacked increases massively.
When should you use a password?
A good password is a combination of numerical digits, upper- and lowercase letters, and various special characters. It could also be a phrase made up of words with the same requirements. Like the PIN, the password concept first appeared in the early 1960s and has been used ever since. A 10-character password has 59,873,693,923,837,900,000 different variations, and most of you are probably thinking you know which of the two is more secure. However, it’s not all about mathematics.
Passwords are used online or for devices like computers, which usually don’t have any limits on failed attempts. That’s why passwords can be compromised with the help of an automated brute-force attack. Of course, not all attacks are practical, as most of them would take years to crack a strong password. Buthacking technologies are evolving fast, making such attacks more sophisticated and successful.
Password vs. PIN: the verdict
Going back to the discussion that I had with my friends, we can safely say that all the opinions were correct in one way or another. The answer to this question depends on where you use your PIN or password.
If you want to unlock your touchscreen device, the safest and easiest way is to use a PIN because of the manual entry and the attempt limit. When it comes to online accounts or computers, passwords are much safer due to the simple math of available combinations.
Also, you can enable multi-factor authentication (2FA) in most online accounts . The 2FA adds another layer of safety, minimizing the risks of automated brute-force attacks. Even if someone manages to get your strong password, they won’t be able to access your account, as the second step of verification will stop them.