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Automation: the future of supply chains?

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By Andrew Scargill, Logistics Operations EMEA at Digital River

 

Caught between the chaos of coronavirus and fallout from Brexit, international supply chains are under serious strain. Add into the mix a global labour shortage that shows no sign of abating, and the cross-border flow of goods is set to get even trickier.

As economies reopen post-pandemic, employers across all sectors are struggling to fill vacancies. The residual consequences of COVID-19 are a big part of this — the public health emergency has fundamentally altered how and where people want to work. Britain’s departure from the European Union is also a factor, with UK companies unable to freely draw on the continent’s vast workforce like before.

Such is the interconnected nature of global commerce, upsets in one market can be felt thousands of miles away. And so, lacking the staff to pick, pack, load, and deliver their products, businesses around the world are facing a festive season that’s far from jolly.

 

Keeping up with demand

As brands navigate these colossal challenges, they are also working to meet customer demand that saw unprecedented growth as the pandemic took hold and continues to rise.

Last year, as lockdowns were called and public life retreated behind closed doors, shoppers took to the internet like never before. A peripheral interest for many people prior to the pandemic, eCommerce was suddenly a necessary part of everyday life.

Shoppers have grown accustomed to rock-bottom prices and next-day delivery. This raises the obvious question: can supply chains continue to meet customer expectations amid an era of unprecedented disruption?

The answer is yes — but it’ll require some serious investment in innovative new technologies, and it could come with a cost shoppers and brands aren’t willing to pay.

 

Robots to the rescue?  

The merits of AI and machine learning are well documented: smart systems can speed up menial tasks, reduce the risk of human error, drive higher levels of productivity, and help businesses bolster their bottom lines.

There is, however, a human cost to the advance of automation, with fewer paying positions for real people. This is particularly pronounced in key supply chain sectors, such as warehousing.

Today, storage and distribution facilities are huge providers of jobs — but tomorrow, that may not be the case. So-called ‘dark warehouses’, great fulfilment centres staffed by semi-autonomous robots, are developing fast.

Whereas human workers require power-hungry lights to operate, machines can pick and pack products perfectly well in the dark, allowing this new breed of warehouse to run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

 

Customers’ call

Such a continuous operation would offer clear commercial benefits. But what of the warehouse’s human workforce?

That, ultimately, is a question that companies must address with guidance from their customers. While shoppers want that last minute late-night order delivered the very next day, they are increasingly concerned about company values, including how an employer treats its staff.

If customers are truly worried about robots taking workers’ jobs, they would have to commit to paying a little more or waiting a little longer for delivery from a brand committed to human employees. That is assuming shoppers are even aware of what level of automation is involved in fulfilling their order.

Customer demands are directing how companies adopt new supply chain technologies, with those that improve service and provide a better buying experience coming out on top.

To really tap into the needs and wants of their customers, businesses must leverage data in a meaningful way. This means utilising data mining tools that can help predict buying patterns, allowing brands to finesse supply chains so that the right products are in the right place at the right time. Attention to creating more efficiencies in supply chain through data and automation could lead to more jobs in engineering, design, management and repair.

Get this right, and businesses will have their customers on board as they explore new supply chain technologies and the potential of automation.

 

Banking

The importance of Customer Experience (CX) for retail banks today

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By James Isaacs, President, Cyara

 

Today’s retail banks face considerable challenges. Open banking initiatives –  that make it easier for customers to switch accounts – and increased competition from emerging fintech brands, are making it harder for them to attract and retain customers. This challenge is particularly acute for traditional banks which are seeking to attract younger people, who are drawn to the range of innovative services offered by digital-first emerging ‘neo’-banks.

To stay competitive, traditional banks must improve the customer experience  they offer account holders. They also must look for more efficient ways of working, so they can service all customers in a consistent way, regardless of which banking channel they use – whether it’s banking online, at a physical bank branch, through a contact centre, using a mobile app, or (most often) using a combination of all these channels.

The challenge of consistency

The argument for an omnichannel strategy is compelling. Fuelled by the pandemic, demand for digital banking services has grown. McKinsey suggests that 71% of European banking clients prefer multi-channel interactions, whilst 25% express a desire for a fully digitally-enabled private banking journey with remote human assistance when needed.

The delivery of such systems, however, is not without its challenges. Embracing omnichannel often means transitioning to a cloud-based infrastructure – away from the legacy on-premise systems prevalent in banks. Even when this hurdle is overcome, delivering banking services through multiple channels requires a significant investment of time and resources. Due to these common barriers, many banking CX projects fail to get off the ground.

James Isaacs

At the other end of the scale, there are the banks who have sought to implement numerous channels to cater for every possible customer demand, with varying degrees of success. The key to the delivery of a stellar CX is consistency – ensuring that every stride a customer takes in their journey is seamless, irrespective of the path or the channel they choose to take. The chance of ensuring a consistent service across all these channels is negatively impacted if organisations attempt to simultaneously deploy services to mobiles, website, in-person channels, messenger, chatbots, contact centres, alongside the adoption of newer open banking services.

Selectiveness is key

Organisations looking to optimise CX through the adoption of an omnichannel strategy are therefore advised to be more selective in their approach – adopting one or two new channels or approaches before expanding their omnichannel offering further.

An ideal starting point for retail banks is to look at automation within the customer journey. When applied correctly, automation can be used to help improve customer service in a way that also delivers efficiency gains.

The power of automation

Automation can have a significant impact on the CX delivered within retail banking, which saves valuable time for the customer and enhances the customer journey. Most customers getting in touch with their banks have fairly routine queries, such as a change of address, so the need to speak to an advisor is often unnecessary.

Automated customer-facing support solutions, such as chatbots, offer a faster way for customers to self-serve and secure the answers that they need to certain problems without having to phone an agent. Chatbots are programmed through a knowledge bank that can easily be updated with new information, enabling customers to source the information they need quickly and easily. Chatbots can also be used to direct customers to an agent if they are unable to resolve the issue.

For those customers who do still need to speak to an agent, there are Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, which capture information from a customer when they call into the contact centre. IVRs help customers complete simple tasks themselves and route them automatically to the right department. This directly reduces average call handling time (AHT) for agents and the length of time that a customer is on the phone.

The importance of automated CX testing

Yet, offering omnichannel and automated journeys is not enough to satisfy customers. These journeys must be flawless if they are to deliver a seamless customer experience. Forward-thinking organisations understand that the only way to assure perfect execution is through adopting automated testing that places a spotlight on the omnichannel customer journey from the customer’s perspective.

Automated testing can be enabled by leveraging an intuitive testing solution that develops test cases based on existing customer journeys. Retail banks can use automated testing to track various paths through IVRs, chatbots and then base test scripts on those journeys to ensure their flow or functionality is as it should be. Using this strategy, financial organisations can create thousands of automated test cases that cover the full swathe of customer journeys, shortening testing operations to a fraction of the time of equivalent manual tests.

While automated testing provides easily measurable benefits, certain alerts flagged by automated testing are more critical than others. Distinguishing a true failure that requires immediate action as opposed to failures that can be addressed in time is essential to achieving the true return on investment (ROI) of test automation. In doing so, banks can ensure that the customer journey remains smooth, and the CX delivered remains outstanding.

The path to good CX is paved with automated testing

Delivering omnichannel services for banking is key to satisfying customer demand. However, whether it is the delivery of a chatbot, IVR or an open banking model, retail banks are well advised to stagger the roll-out to ensure the delivery of a consistent service to customers. Automation plays a critical role here – both in the delivery of omnichannel services to customers, but also ensuring its ongoing success through rigorous, frequent and automated testing.

Financial organisations that want to remain frontrunners in the market will stand out against the competition by delivering stellar digital and in-person experiences for customers. To assure high-quality CX, walk in the shoes of your customers, testing their customer journey in each and every scenario to confirm there are no cracks in the road. Of course, there may be bumps along the way, but when those are addressed in a timely manner, retail banks will continue to attract and retain customers for the long haul.

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Business

Why do Traders Need a Managed Service Partner?

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Jeff Mezger, Vice President of Product Management, Financial Markets, TNS

 

Does your financial institution have the understanding, resources, talent and bandwidth to execute an effective data center strategy in-house? If not, it needs to, as behind every transaction is a labyrinth of algorithms and networking infrastructure technology that converge in one location: the data center.

For most, the answer will be ‘no’. There will not be the resource or skill in-house to keep ahead of the maze of technical and logistical options to execute the fastest and most profitable trades. Trading success requires accessing extremely powerful servers, with the best data lines and connections close to where the trade is physically taking place. Processing close to the source of the input data provides the lowest possible latency between input and response – and speed matters. Milliseconds can mean the loss or gain of millions of dollars.

 

Latency Matters

Low latency is vital for algorithmic trading. Many factors affect latency, especially hardware location and network connections. Trade execution speed is critical in maximizing profit and loss, and a competitive advantage comes from having the best communication links to hardware in the best location.

TNS’ ultra-low latency Layer 1 technology for exchange direct access inside the data center was the first architecture of its kind to be offered and deployed globally and remains the most advanced solution in the market. It eradicates the need for multiple switches by using a simple, single-hop architecture to deliver direct exchange connectivity in as little as 5 to 85 nanoseconds – impressive when you consider that the human eye takes 400 nanoseconds to blink!

So, acknowledging that speed and colocation are vital for executing a trading strategy, what can firms do to underpin trading success? Many will outsource operations to a specialist managed hosting, colocation and connectivity service provider.

 

In-house vs. DIY

A recent independent report Colocation of Financial Markets Trading Infrastructure’, identifies the pros and cons of in-house management (a “DIY” approach) versus a managed service model. The report found that managed service providers offer beneficial value-added services for capital markets clients. Advantages include cost savings, trade efficiency, and simplified access to data and network infrastructure support, enabling trading firms to focus on their core business competencies. Industry analyst firm, Celent, which authored the report, interviewed trading firms and data and trading technology providers and found that the key decision criteria when deciding to engage a managed service provider included:

  • Consultation and expert advice on the ideal configuration of hardware, network connectivity, location, data feeds and network bandwidth.
  • Agility and flexibility to take advantage of ever-changing investment opportunities by rapidly and easily deploying trading strategies in new markets.
  • Access to high-end network services, leveraging high-speed solutions, including ultra-low latency, in-data center Layer 1 connectivity to link to trading venues, new customers and other service providers.
  • Operational efficiency and future proofing, with access to the latest technology, and highly experienced staff in all global jurisdictions who help to navigate cultural, linguistic, and regulatory obstacles.

 

Challenges

Managed Service Providers offering remote data center space and connectivity are on a quest to deliver a uniform global experience to ensure trading in, for example, Singapore or Tokyo is the same as trading in London or New York. They are also constantly investing in technology and new locations. For TNS, this means responding to customer requests to deliver a service in any location, most recently announcing a managed hosting and colocation offering in Madrid.

On rare occasions, perhaps instigated by political or economic events, firms may need to move from their existing data center location, as seen recently when key exchange, Euronext, relocated its primary data center and related colocation services from Basildon in the UK to the Aruba Global data center IT3 in Bergamo Italy. Such a physical move is a big undertaking and firms need differentiated support and solutions to ensure that they can seamlessly move and trade continuously, regardless of their size, requirements and the exchange location.

So far, TNS has moved nearly 20 existing and new customers to Bergamo, providing traders with uninterrupted, seamless trading. Our customers have been able to focus on their core business while we have managed the global supply chain issues to ensure a smooth migration. With suppliers quoting lead times of a year for some equipment, our buying power compared to smaller firms or those attempting to DIY a move, has proved invaluable in ensuring a smooth transition.

 

Future-Proof

Firms need to future-proof their trading infrastructure by working with a provider that has experience in managing access to vast amounts of raw market data, can support multicast requirements and is able to offer scalable solutions to accommodate the demands of ever-expanding bandwidth. As traders diversify their portfolios, their market data needs can place excessive network capacity pressures on their infrastructure, sometimes running into tens of gigabits. Seek a provider that can easily accommodate these requirements and handle data bursts during high activity periods, such as those seen on many recent occasions due to market volatility caused by political and economic events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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