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Machine-learning takes on ecommerce

While machine learning is a relatively new concept for many, there are an increasing number of platforms and services that are adopting this construction of algorithms. ROBERT SCOTT, SafariNow CCO, talks about the relevance of supervised and unsupervised machine learning.

Given the massive increase in the amount of data that companies – of all sizes and across sectors – are generating, it is no surprise that data analytics and machine learning are fast becoming key components of every innovative company’s toolkit. For the uninitiated, machine learning refers to the way in which companies can now leverage computing power to find important patterns within their data – and then use these patterns to improve their service or product offering.

Because of the sheer volume and complexity of the data being created today, it is often far beyond the capacity of any human – no matter how analytically gifted – to find any relevant trends or insights within what has been tagged ‘Big Data’.

Notably, one of the big differences between machine learning and computer-assisted analysis (where humans are involved) is that the recent breakthroughs in machine learning enable computers to teach themselves how to solve problems. So previously, when humans were directing computers, they were limited to very direct questions and answers (for example, “what is my top selling item?”) and required the person using the machine to dictate which method to use to the solve the problem. Now, machine learning enables computers to find answers in ways that are unguided by human intervention.

Although it is a relatively new and novel concept for many, the technology has already been applied to platforms and services that we use daily. Take Google Search, for example. When we enter a search term, Google uses elements of machine learning to analyse our behaviour once the first results have been served up (i.e. did we need to type in the same search term again, or did we follow some of the top links provided?) and then refines and improves its service according to the data. Other examples include Google’s self-driving car, how Netflix suggests which movies you should try next, and how a dating site suggests which people are most likely to be a suitable match for you…

Unexpected Insights

As with most technological tools today, almost any company or sector can leverage machine learning to better serve their customers. The challenge for companies is to recognise where – and how – certain insights and trends can improve their product or service offering.

Within the travel sector, we have identified various areas in which machine learning can be applied in order to fine tune our offering and help travelers locate their dream destinations. One of the great benefits of this tool is that it often finds relationships between factors that are completely unexpected and unplanned.

Machine learning has led us to the insight, for example, that some accommodation providers have a preference for prioritising requests from customers who would like to stay with them in the next few days – whereas other providers would much rather prioritise requests far in advance (for the school holidays, for example). Often, it is these unexpected – or unplanned – insights that can be the most beneficial for customers.

Continual Improvement

As an online travel aggregator, there are in fact infinite possible use cases for machine learning – and we are at the tip of the iceberg in terms of harnessing its potential to improve our offering to consumers looking for the next adventure.

Looking ahead, machine learning will perhaps become a standard application within the travel and e-commerce environment. Companies that are open to innovative ways of finding insights in their data can ultimately serve their customers more efficiently – and even develop closer relationships with them in the long-term. The key for companies is to keep an open mind as to whether or not their long-held beliefs about what customers want is actually supported by the data.

By always remaining alert to new patterns and insights, companies can make adjustments – both big and small – to enhance their offering.

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Mobile is the new branch

Standard Bank has launched an account for mobile devices that gives back 500MB of data a month

Standard Bank has introducd a R4.95p/m bank account called MyMo that customers can open on their mobile devices, loaded with data and airtime offerings and other benefits such as virtual and Gold physical card.

MyMo account holders will also enjoy the convenience of a cheque account through a Visa and Mastercard gold card. Once the account is open, users can choose to either receive R50 in airtime or 500MB of data a month, if their card is swiped more than four times a month. A further megabyte of data is loaded on the account for every R20 spent.

“MyMo is an account for everyone, whether you just landed your first job or have been around the block. With no documentation required it only takes a few minutes to open the account,” says Funeka Montjane, Chief Executive for Personal and Business Banking, South Africa, at Standard Bank Group. “For just R4.95 a month customer will be able to enjoy free swipes and ATM withdrawals at only R6.50 for amounts under R 1 000.

“Mobile is the new branch. This account is about bringing the mobile branch into customers hands, it is about convenience and security while banking.”

She says mobile offers low cost transactional banking which integrates people and businesses into the new connected economy, making mobile the new branch ecosystem that will drive and connect Africa’s growth. Physical connections to the economy are rapidly changing to digital where banks have to move from being financial institutions to service organisations.

“In the past people congregated in communities and eventually cities to maximise the advantages of connectivity. Today a simple hand-held device has the potential to open infinite doors, transforming individuals’ access to opportunities, regardless of where they are, and like never before in history. 

“Historically, a bank account represented access to economic citizenship. Today, having a simple device enabling digital access to a modern banking platform is a passport to global connectivity and vast human development potential.”

The bank says it is using technology, and mobile phones in particular, to deliver low-cost transactional channels accessible to all our customers. The evolution in mobile can be seen in transaction options like cash back at the retail checkout till rather than the ATM, free digital banking rather than using a branch, and the ability to transact using digital wallets, even without a bank account.

“Developing comprehensive connected ecosystems requires a mind-set change from Africa’s banks,” says Montjane. “Banks will evolve away from traditional financial service organisations, into service ecosystems enabling broad universal access to almost everything like enhanced purchasing experiences of vehicles and homes, online procurement of goods and services and lifestyle elements like rewards and travel. 

“These connectivity drivers will also act to future-proof evolving connectivity ecosystem by allowing us to offer untold future services while deriving income from as yet unrealised revenue streams,.   

From a customer perspective, the kind of ecosystems of knowledge, access and, ultimately, connectivity that banks will come to provide will radically transform the share of life that almost all individuals will be able to access.”

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Two-thirds of SA staff hide social media from bosses

With 90% of people in employment going online several times a day, it can be hard for most workers to keep their private and work-life separate during the working day (and beyond). The recently published Global Privacy Report from Kaspersky Lab reveals that 64% of South African consumers choose to hide social media activity from their boss. This secretive stance at work also extends to their colleagues, with 60% of South Africans also preferring not to reveal online activities to their co-workers.

Globally, the average employee spends an astonishing 13 years and two months at work during their lifetime. Interestingly though, not all this time is directly related to solving work tasks or earning a promotion: almost two thirds (64%) of consumers admit visiting non-work-related websites every day from their desk.

Not surprisingly, 35% of South African employees are against their employer knowing which websites they visit. However, more interestingly, 60% of South African are even against their colleagues knowing about their online activities. This probably means that colleagues constitute an even greater threat to future perspectives of an office slouch or maybe the relationships with colleagues are more informal and therefore, more valuable.

On the contrary, social media activity appears to be a less private domain for many and therefore, more suitable for sharing with colleagues but not the boss. This is probably because workers fear harming the public image of a company or interest in decreased staff productivity motivates companies to monitor employees’ social networks and make career changing decisions based on that. Such policies have led to 64% of South Africans saying that they don’t want to reveal their social media activities to their boss and 53% even don’t want to disclose this information to their colleagues.

A further 29% are against showing the content of their messages and emails to their employer. In addition, 3% even said that their career was irrevocably damaged as a consequence of their personal information being leaked. Thus, people are worried about how to build a favourable internal reputation and how not to destroy existing workplace relationships.

“As going online is an integral part of our life nowadays, lines continue to blur between our digital existence at work and at home. And that’s neither good nor bad. That’s how we live in the digital age. Just keep remembering that as an employee you need to be increasingly cautious of what exactly you post on social media feeds or what websites you prefer using at work. One misconceived action on the internet could have an irrevocable long-term impact on even the most ambitious worker’s ability to climb the career ladder of their choice in the future,” comments Marina Titova, Head of Consumer Product Marketing at Kaspersky Lab.

To ensure workers don’t fall prey of the internet threats at a work, there are some core guidelines to adhere to in the digital age:

  • Don’t post anything that could be considered defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libellous. If in doubt, don’t post.
  • Be aware that system administrators may at least, in theory, be informed about your web browsing patterns.
  • Don’t harass, threaten, discriminate or disparage against any colleague, partner, competitor or customer. Neither on social networks or in messages, emails, nor by any other means.
  • Don’t post photographs of other employees, customers, vendors, suppliers or company products without prior written permission.
  • Start using Kaspersky Password Manager to ensure your social media and other personal accounts are not at risk of unauthorised access by someone else in an office. Install a reliable security solution such as Kaspersky Security Cloud to protect your personal devices.

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