Tag Archives: Amazon

Calgary eyes data mining as a new resource industry

Cowtown took a hit when oil prices tanked. But Calgary tech companies could hit pay dirt soon by going after resources that aren’t in the ground thanks to data mining. Like many Canadian cities, the Alberta capital has a burgeoning tech sector long overshadowed by traditional industries, but as laid-off oil workers and execs look to regroup, the city’s tech community is receiving more attention at a time when data is seen as a precious resource.

Menome Technologies sees potential for data in the post-oil era. The startup was founded by Mike Morley after he was laid off from the energy sector during the downturn. He believes data mining could replace drilling for oil as one of the city’s chief job creators, because data is the driver of the new economy. Menome helps companies deal with the data deluge—there’s no shortage of information available to businesses of all sizes across all industries, but the data is scattered across different systems that aren’t easily linked together. Morley created Menome to solve this problem.

Data mining is not new, but it’s getting more attention, as it’s no longer just the domain of larger companies, such as Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify.

Data drives streaming services

Just before Christmas, a single tweet from Netflix caused much anger and entertainment: The video streaming company called out the 53 customers who watched A Christmas Prince—a Yuletide movie it produced. It’s not just the mocking of its customers that drew ire, it was the realization that it and many other companies collect a great deal of data about its users.

Netflix responded to the furor by emphasizing the behavioural data it collects is used to better serve users—and is done so anonymously. It’s not alone: Music streaming service Spotify also got into hot water for making fun of users based on their listening habits, even though it was part of an ad campaign that sought permission from specific customers who participated. And like Netflix, Spotify collects data about users to make recommendations.

Both these incidents brought the concept of data mining to the attention of the average customer, but it’s nothing new. It involves sorting through large data sets to identify patterns and establish relationships to solve problems through analysis. The exponential volumes of data in scientific disciplines, such as bioinformatics, experimental physics, astronomy, and chemistry are helping tune various techniques that can be applied in health care, finance, insurance, retail, and telecommunications, among others.

Mining data illuminates health care trends to improve treatments and patient outcomes, helps insurance companies analyze risk, and allows businesses of many types to predict future trends, so they can plan accordingly and improve profitability. What’s changed in recent years is its pervasiveness in online services—it’s why you see a relevant ad from Amazon on Facebook right after you visit Amazon. But it’s no longer just the domain of large companies with deep pockets or university research labs with a supercomputer. Data mining has been democratized thanks to customer relationship management (CRM) tools and chatbots that engage users.

Startups, such as Menome, make it easier for companies to solve specific problems by harnessing data they’ve collected without investing in costly computer power and hard-to-find data science talent. Because it’s more accessible, it’s become an essential tool for companies looking to gain a competitive advantage.

Learn how data mining gets done

Businesses trying to figure out how to mine data should consider where it’s already heading:

  • Extracting data from various multimedia sources, including audio, video, and images.
  • Pulling data from mobile devices to gather information about individuals.
  • Compiling large amounts of information from different organizations to gather insight and build reports.
  • Grabbing information from environmental, astronomical, and geographical data for use in navigation applications, such as geographic information systems.
  • Studying cyclical and seasonal trends, as well as analyzing random events happening outside the normal series of events, including customer buying patterns and behaviours.

Understand the benefits of a new resource

One reason the business of mining data is appealing—aside from the fact that businesses want to draw insight from all the data they’re collecting—is they don’t have to be in a specific place to do it. While Calgary tech companies may see it as a way to reduce dependence on oil drilling, other cities are also poised to capitalize on the data deluge.

Local companies can exploit data by helping their municipality become a smarter city, including Calgary. In 2017, the Canadian federal government doubled down on its Open by Default Portal and earmarked millions of dollars for its Smart Cities Challenge. The evolution in the open data landscape is expected to continue in 2018, as open data providers and users seek to close the gaps between what’s here already and what’s needed for Canadian innovation. The City of Edmonton, for example, has led the Open Cities Index for the last three years, so the Battle of Alberta is further incentive for Calgary to shift its economy from oil to data.

If you conduct business in Calgary, this trend is worth keeping an eye on. Knowing how to collect and leverage data now will help you stay one step ahead of competition tomorrow.

Amazon sparks a race for retailers to adopt predictive analytics

Amazon is coming after retail stores. You can see it everywhere: Online retailers, like Amazon, are absolutely killing malls, downtown shops—even big box retailers. The e-commerce juggernaut recently announced it would begin operating stores where consumers can pick up items and head out the door, in addition to smaller outlets where Amazon customers can already pick up or return items.

Interactive shelf technology can play a big part in who stands tallest with consumers in the end. It’s all thanks to predictive analytics—a science that tries to help retailers better understand consumer behaviour. This new interactive retail tech is powered by essential customer data—something Amazon, as an online giant, has in spades.

With these new options for consumers, what’s today’s retailer supposed to do? Predictive analytics is a growing, multi-billion dollar industry, but somehow it’s not everywhere in Canada just yet.

Retail enlists predictive analytics to fight back

Like with any rivalry, the best bet is to fight back. Companies like Kroger, which are right in the crosshairs of Amazon’s foray into groceries and actual stores, have a plan. They’re launching interactive shelf technology in stores, allowing shelves to alert customers about shopping list items. Taking away some of the hassle of shopping in grocery stores is a good idea, but no one’s quite solved it. We’re willing to bet everyone has had a terrible experience at self-checkout machines by this point. The thinking is that Amazon, with little retail experience, can totally rethink the way consumers shop.

Can predictive analytics help stores survive against an Amazon onslaught? It’s possible. In many retail locations, employees now leverage technology like tablets to guide customers based on past purchases. From Lowe’s bilingual robot guides to Neiman Marcus’s outfit-comparison mirrors, retail is showing up to the tech arena armed. But these won’t function as wonder cures for stores—they’re attempts to be as advanced as Amazon.

Good luck with that. Amazon spends tens of billions in research and development every year. For a retailer, that’s impressive. For smaller businesses, it might be better to partner with Amazon’s technology than fight it.

Trial by tech—weighing cost and patience

Some of the experimentation businesses will need to endure to make predictive analytics a success in retail locations is worrying for managers. While retail is an experience that needs improvement, there isn’t agreement on how to do it. Another issue is privacy concerns. Do we really want a world like Minority Report, where targeted ads follow you around everywhere? Digital wallets bring their own hoard of security concerns, too. People don’t seem to have concerns about Amazon, but they might if every store starts collecting troves of data on customers.

This tech is expected to help businesses save money. Major Canadian grocery retailers now outsource their analytic analysis to experts to save time and money. But outlay costs are murky. Businesses will likely need to spend a lot before seeing any returns. Forrester says an estimated 10 percent of Canadian retail purchases will be made online by 2019—up from 6 percent in 2014, and coming close to the 11 percent 2019 forecast for the United States.

Amazon is a tech giant and a retailer all wrapped into one company, making it an opponent with a serious advantage. As online and offline retailers continue to battle and strategize with tech, you can expect big things in the brick-and-mortar sector soon—including technological overhauls of the in-person shopping experience, as companies like Amazon dive in to stir the water.

Thanks for the cloud security control, encryption!

To say the cloud is commonplace in IT would be a gross understatement. Cloud-enabled services have permeated every aspect of the industry—from music streaming to live backups. But securing the cloud has been a challenge up to this point, one that many businesses leave to the cloud service provider to take care of.

Sure, you can say, “Amazon should take care of security for me.” And, sure, a company like Amazon will take a certain degree of precautions when it comes to securing the cloud infrastructure it maintains—they’ve got a reputation to maintain and more cloud services to sell. You can be confident that for Amazon or any standard cloud service provider, the servers your systems run on will be in locked rooms with limited physical access. Fortunately, the law requires they do so if they want to be allowed to legally store sensitive data, like financial or medical information.

Are you safe in the cloud?

We’re willing to bet that a rudimentary level of digital security is in place for your average CSP. A basic firewall and a modern password-protected login system to gain access to the dashboard are pretty safe expectations. The bad news is that your CSP has limited responsibility past that, since you’re free to do what you please with the equipment. Ensuring a basic level of security that complies with the laws and regulations of their home country means they’re able to service a larger amount of the population.

When a business is storing mission-critical backups and data online, securing the cloud becomes a high priority. Loading up workloads, installing software, or granting access to an entire business-worth of users opens up your cloud to new attacks that IT will have to defend. If you’re groaning and thinking this is a difficult task, you’re not wrong. There are so many elements of the equation that IT just can’t control, like a breach into the CSP’s system.

Apple’s iCloud is a great example of this. Recently, a breach through the iCloud API allowed hackers to make unlimited attempts on victims’ passwords, which resulted in the infamous leak of hundreds of private celebrity photos. Amazon isn’t safe from hacks either, fighting an ongoing battle to reduce the number of attack surfaces every day. Attacks against Amazon can knock out not only your business, but entire chunks of the internet for their duration. In severe cases, it could wipe out your company entirely.

Securing the cloud with encryption

So what is an administrator to do against such a threat? Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) has developed a way to control access to cloud data through encryption.

“Cloud storage services make data storage and sharing more efficient and cost-effective, but their use requires trust in the cloud’s security,” explains Jianying Zhou. “We wanted to find a way to ease the security concerns by creating a system that does not require the data owner to trust the cloud service or assume perfect protection against hacking.”

Their solution allows access to an individual file hosted in the cloud that can be issued or revoked in real time, eliminating the possibility that the files can be accessed offline. “The file owner, Alice, generates the proxy keys, which define who can decrypt the file [for example, Bob] and gives them to the cloud server,” explained Zhou. “When Bob wants to access the encrypted file in the cloud, the cloud server needs to first decrypt the file for Bob using the proxy key as well as the cloud server’s private key. This results in an intermediate decryption that the cloud server passes to Bob. He then uses his private key to decrypt the file to get the plaintext file. If Alice wants to revoke Bob’s access, she simply informs the cloud server to remove his proxy key.”

This way, the owner of the data retains control of their cloud-based infrastructure—the true dream for ITDMs. The decryption process is lightweight and can be done with any average smartphone or laptop, provided you’ve been given the key and are authorized to access the service.

IT can secure the cloud without really securing “the cloud.” With this process, they ensure their sensitive data within the cloud is secure. The infrastructure itself may be vulnerable to attack, but you’ve cut the potential damage done in half.

Turns out, you can teach old paper new tricks

The Chinese first invented it around 100 AD. Over a period of two millennia, paper has become intricately wound through the fabric of our daily lives. Are we really about to give it up in the space of a few short decades, just for the sake of digitizing the workplace—or has the hype that we have bought into about the death of print been exaggerated? Vendors have used iPads, Kindles, and the like to create a utopian vision of an entirely digital world, but in reality, the paperless home and office has proven about as likely as a paperless bathroom. Look around your own office; the chances are that paper still plays an important part in your existence.

There are definitive signs that print is thriving in a world entranced by digitization. Amazon, often blamed for the death of the book, is opening brick-and-mortar book retail stores that offer paper books alongside digital ones. It has at least six across the US at the time of writing, with at least six more in the wings. Reports suggest that the ecommerce giant is planning hundreds.

Say it with me: Print is not dead

The Association of American Publishers has quantified just how well paper books are doing; it charted ebook sales down by almost a fifth (18.7 percent) in the first three quarters of 2016. Paperback and hardback book sales grew 7.5 percent and 4.1 percent respectively.

Paper doesn’t sound like a medium that’s breathed its last. Some executives have argued that there’s print relevance in the digital world because it provokes people to read it in a way that throw-away digital copy doesn’t—even can’t. Paper-based text and images have more weight. Holding a publication and leafing through it can give its content more gravitas. That makes it great for top-of-funnel marketing campaigns and communicating the quality of a brand.

Printed media can still be used effectively as a marketing tool. In fact, it can become a point of differentiation for smart companies that use it wisely. For example, sending personalized postcards to potential customers can grab their attention in a way that an email dropped into an ocean of digital communication can’t.

Still, there’s no doubt that print-based content has been competing with increasingly aggressive digital channels as we continue digitizing the workplace. How can companies keep it relevant to enjoy the advantages that it offers?

The literal best of both worlds

One way is to merge digital and print technology together, creating a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts. Mobile apps and even wearable devices are breathing new life into print media. By marrying the two, you can produce innovative digital experiences that still rely on the printed page. Augmented reality firm Augment uses its scanner app in conjunction with partners like Siemens to create 3D animations that leap out from documents. Meanwhile, Slyce combines catalogues with its visual scanning app that instantly recognizes images, giving people the convenience of flicking through a catalogue with the bonus convenience of ordering what they see via a mobile app.

Increasingly fast, functional printing equipment has also made on-demand printing more realistic for many companies. Ordering exactly what you need from a print service provider enables you to print only as many copies as necessary. More importantly, it lets you update materials quickly and easily, meaning that your print publication will always have the latest information.

Paper won’t disappear completely from view, although digital technologies, and in particular the use of tablet devices, has shown fierce competition for advocates of print. If companies can continue to innovate with print and capitalize on the attraction of the printed image, we can hopefully look forward to many more chapters in its story.