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Cloud makes business magic

A cloud summit conference last week illustrated the dramatic way the cloud can transform an organisation’s capacity.

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What do the movies have in common with banks? Aside from the billions of rands and dollars that flow through both industries, they seem worlds apart. Yet, in the world of cloud computing, they are suddenly close neighbours.

It’s not just that both now tend to host their services in the cloud, accessible from any connected device anywhere in the world. Now, they can take advantage of the lessons, systems and strategies that each has adopted in the cloud.

One of the best-known examples of leveraging the cloud for global impact is Netflix, which hosts its content in the data centres of Amazon Web Services (AWS), the world’s largest cloud computing service. Along with videos and movies, it also uses applies regional licensing frameworks via this cloud platform, meaning it can instantly launch new services and videos worldwide that comply with local regulations in every country.

At last week’s AWS Summit in Cape Town, it became clear just how powerful the cloud can be for South African organisations. One of South Africa’s oldest insurance companies, one of the country’s largest universities and the country’s newest bank all took to the stage to share case studies of how the cloud had transformed their operations.

That is probably all that Old Mutual, the University of Pretoria and TymeBank have in common, but they slotted in neatly to a bigger story: the cloud is available to any institution or business, large or small, old or new. This is the underlying secret to the astonishing growth of TymeBank, South Africa’s first fully digital bank, and the first entity to receive a banking license in this country in 19 years.

Launched earlier this year, it currently brings 100,000 new customers on board every month. To achieve this, it uses no less than 54 distinct services available on the AWS platform, says Dieter Botha, chief information officer of the bank.

“We’ve got so many services in the ecosystem. From a security point of view, every single one of our customers’ conversations with banks comes into the AWS world via a security layer, a content delivery network, web application firewall and AWS’s Advanced Shield, so we are pretty resilient from cyber attacks. The primary purpose is to make sure our face to the world is protected from attack.”

The most fascinating aspect of their ability to leverage the AWS cloud, however, was the fact that they were able to piggyback on processes and systems that streaming video giant Netflix had created for its own services in the cloud.

“They’ve got what we call the Netflix stack, a set of tools they put together that makes it easier to manage microservices, small elements of computer processes that run in what are called containers.”

Netflix built its own application containers, on top of an open-source platform, meaning that anyone could use and adapt the systems it had developed. However, that was only a starting point while TymeBank was pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.

“This is where we say, if you take a step back, this stuff is very cool, but it translates into an element of risk. From a risk point of view, rather than using that scaffolding, we said let’s take our microservices container, and get an animal like AWS to run it for us. So we’re effectively replacing the Netflix stack with AWS and its native services.

“Now our techies can just focus on the code inside our operations rather than build the heavy scaffolding we had to worry about. The documentation is so good on AWS, because they have real technical gurus who understand the systems, that it de-risks our services.”

Netflix wasn’t the only everyday consumer service that played its part on building TymeBank. It turns out that many of the global giants have made their systems and learnings available to anyone on the world. The bank turned to a product from none other than Facebook to help build its Web presence.

“When you look under the hood of our Internet banking product, the programming language is JavaScript, but Facebook has packed it into a framework for building their pages. They then open-sourced it, and called it React, which makes it easier to use it. Our Internet banking product is built using the Facebook React framework. In the exact same way, Netflix are also releasing frameworks to the Open Source community all the time.”

As TymeBank refines its services and migrates deeper and deeper into the Amazon cloud, it has also been able to cut costs dramatically.

“We found as we’ve grown and become more comfortable in that cloud and more skilled in the use of the cloud, we began consuming more native services, meaning they are designed to run in the cloud. That’s a really big deal for us. That’s when you see the benefits of the cloud ecosystem. One native service can trigger another, because they talk to each other well.

“This includes a set of services that help you manage your life and bills in the cloud. People forget about costs. Now we can tag a lot of our services in the AWS cloud to understand exactly what is driving cost points, and we are able to manage costs right down to the level of the techies.

“Traditionally, if you sign a contract with a big supplier, it gets filed away, and the techies don’t even know what is driving costs. By tagging services in the cloud, you’re giving cost knowledge to your techies, and it’s in their power to push it up and down. You give them the power to understand costs and manage them. That’s never been possible before.”

This partly explains why TymeBank is able to bring the monthly cost of having a bank account to exactly zero. It is only when one starts using its services that banking fees kick in.

However, the fact that a 174-year-old insurance company like Old Mutual and a 156-year-old like Standard Bank are also rapidly migrating to the AWS platform is a clear message that the cloud is not just for newcomers.

Both institutions began offering their services in the middle of the 18th century, when the concept of technology barely existed. Yet, the constant evolution and falling price of cutting-edge tech like cloud computing has meant they can not only survive, but even thrive, in the presence of young upstarts like TymeBank.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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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.

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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:

  1. 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”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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  Erupt18 Sept 2019. By Melissa Parrish with Sharyn Leaver, Brigitte Majewski, Caroline Robertson, and Stephanie Liu.

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Which should you use: PIN or Password?

By CHAD HAMMOND, a digital security expert at NordPass

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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.

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