The robots that can: A digital customer service future

When the robot asks your size, what do you say? 

When the robot asks your size, what do you say? 

The robot(s) that can: a digital customer service future

“我能帮你吗?” (May I help you) came the slightly feminine voice behind me.  I was caught off guard at first, thinking that I had someone walk up behind me while I was studying the store map.  Turning around, I stared down at the cute 3-foot-tall robot, which blinked up at me with an animated, smiling screen.  

“I am not sure, actually” I responded in English, intrigued.  The robot flashed for a moment on the screen, and responded in English this time “Would you like to look at clothing or jewelry, both are nearby?”

Curious now, I responded “Clothing” and the robot chirped a friendly ‘follow me’ and proceed to roll towards the nearest branded clothing section in the incredibly large shop in the suburbs of Beijing.    During the roll / walk over, I heard in my native language the retail sales opportunities on clothing in advance of Spring Festival coming soon.    By the time I found a jacket that fit, I received two further advertisements (both tailored to a male customer), and a friendly reminder to join the affinity card program to receive more discounts.  

This was not the first or only interaction with digitally enabled customer service bots or experiences while in China.   Over the course of three weeks visiting in-laws, we encountered robots delivering food to the table (with beacon technologies and IoT making it possible to track us in the restaurant after ordering), banking robots that rolled around the branch lobby helping place people in the right queues and dispensing rate information, and digital touch displays from KFC and McDonald’s that provided Mandarin and English options (and prompts / advice) for ordering and payment.       

What struck me about the experience was the rapid adoption of the digital / IoT / consumer technologies by the customers (including me), and how fast these brands/companies have adopted digital business capabilities to reduce friction and better service customers.    I found over the weeks in China, I would gravitate to these digital brands more than others I encountered.  I felt a convenience and comfort with the experience, and actually was intrigued by the next experience I might have.  


While digital capabilities are great, and the strategy is working for these sectors in the early days – the future is more complicated.   The economics in China are shifting with government intention  towards a greater services industry focus (and less towards infrastructure and agro-business).   The services industry, especially in metropolitan markets, has become the hot area for growth. 

With the introduction of digital capabilities – from robots, to IoT,  and digital engagement points (displays and beacons / tracking and tailored digital advertising), the services industry workforce will be challenged with alternative modes of customer interaction.   In a country of over 1 billion, how these brands / companies adapt their business to the digital opportunity over the long run will be a very interesting story to watch.   

Taking this construct outside China, the future implications in other geographic markets will challenge our services economy expectations soon (if not already).    What is required is a robust data / telecommunications infrastructure, the expertise to make these technologies work, and the ability to connect the digital experience with the underlying brand experience.     Understanding the digital disruption at work, and opportunities these new capabilities present will help companies differentiate in the new digital era.    

Ready to explore your digital opportunity? 

To learn more and discuss how digital transformation opportunities can help your business, get in touch at    And remember, when the robot asks what size you are, always go up a notch or two on the belt.   They can’t see the difference (yet).


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Rob McGillen is the founder, CEO and principal consultant at Practically Digital, a digital transformation consultancy focused on helping companies leverage the opportunities presented by new digital innovations.  




Growth, efficiency and security: three digital technologies every executive should know in 2017

As companies gear up for 2017, digital business opportunities abound for forward thinking leaders.   For Sales Growth, Efficiency, and Security (+speed) - the digital landscape holds a number of strong opportunities in the year ahead.   Understanding the possibilities, and how they add value to the broader business, is key to any digital transformation. 

For Growth - Sales Engagement Platforms  

The number one thing that drives corporate growth is sales.  And the growing number of sales engagement platforms in 2016 was not by accident. The recent Aragon Research report on Sales Engagement Platforms has pegged the market today at $780m, and expected to grow to $5b by 2021.    Often times sales engagement (or enablement depending on the marketing twist) – is focused on helping business leaders best identify the ‘hot leads’ and strong sales candidates that can help move a quarter or make a business year.   

Why should CxO’s and IT leaders care?  The need for better sales techniques and technologies has reached an all-time high as companies have realized static growth through traditional sales processes and solutions.   Many of the leading platforms in this area are ‘born on the cloud’ – and integrating with the leading CRM and contracts management platforms.   Breaking the mold and finding new ways to identify, connect and engage customers will be key in 2017 for growth minded companies.    

This year, solving what your sales engagement platform play will be key to many companies’ growth success.  

For Efficiency - Cognitive computing (and the variations of artificial intelligence)

The proverbial genie is out of the bottle with artificial intelligence, and 2016 witnessed a number of tech vendor commitments (and some deliveries) of A.I. for sake of business.   The commercial leader, IBM, has brought to market strongly the IBM Watson platform, enabling dozens of industries and thousands of companies in the quest for great efficiency.    Salesforce, always a tech leader, will also be introducing Einstein into their platform in 2017.  And Microsoft is quick to follow with Cortana and other predictive analytics capabilities.   

Key questions to answer on artificial intelligence:  In the mash up of buzz words and hype around the capabilities, does your business (and IT group) know the difference between machine learning and cognitive computing?    More important, do you know which is right for your business now, and in the future? The efficiency gains (and in some cases, workforce transition or replacement) from the use will be long running.    Building a strategy today that embraces the possibilities, with a long term view will be crucial to maximize the efficiency gains possible for your business.  

For Security (and speed) – Blockchain

From his recent TED talk, Don Tapscott, a leading digital strategist and speaker, shares his insights into how the block chain technology will impact nearly all facets of human life.

How will blockchain make the world different in 2017?  In short, Blockchain helps drive security (and speed) by improving the real time authentication of transactions and removing the ‘middle man’ in the clearing and authentication process.   By making the transactions ‘completely trustworthy’, the authentication time and processes can be changed from hours and days (think transferring funds across a banking network or between countries), to microseconds.  

Two illustrative scenarios that are impacted by blockchain (and more to come): 

First, in Financial Services.  The availability of funds, and real time acquisition time possible with the blockchain authentication process, changes the underlying business model for the financial services market itself.  The fees, processes, timing involved, and infrastructure of over 100 years is challenged with the adoption of block chain.  How does a bank or institution charge for microsecond processing in the future state?    More important, how does that impact the flow of capital between individuals and businesses worldwide.     

Second, Verification of financial reports and records in the accounting industry.  Today millions of auditors and tax processors around the world conduct regular analysis, reporting and auditing processes, mostly still in a quarterly or annual cycle with complex platforms and processes.    When the need for ‘trusting the books’ is automatically performed with blockchain capabilities, how does that impact the accounting industry?   In short, it can drastically shift the value proposition (and need) for financial review and reporting.   And it forces a digital rethink of the industry itself and the value it will provide to companies ahead.    

As companies consider security and speed opportunities in 2017 – consider how your company might adopt block chain to transform your business.   If authentication, authorization, and speed are priorities for your company, block chain will provide a competitive advantage which you can take up.

Digital capabilities and transforming your business in the implementation process is something we help companies with every day.  Are you ready to become a digital business?  

Get in touch to learn how!   

Being Different in a Digital World

The most frequent question we have heard this year at Practically Digital Why does digital matter to my business”

The short answer, because the business world has changed, quickly. The number of people with mobile devices now exceeds PCs, the degrees of engagement for customers are tilting strongly into digital territory, and customer expectations (and attention spans) are drastically heightened and short. There are growing piles of statistics that indicate that the business world is now running at a different speed. 

Digital is about time. Saving it. Optimizing it. Being different and catching the eye, thought, and opportunity for a customer to engage with your company.  Time is the most valuable asset in commerce today (both for the business and customer).

That is why differentiation in the digital world matters. The historic business activities, processes, and outcomes are growing tired in the eyes of the customer base.  People are ‘swiping left’ on companies they no longer have time to explore or wait on.  Customers are looking for fresh and engaging. They are looking for different. 

Companies who get the digital opportunity are leveraging this unique era to grow exponentially, much as they did during the 1st and 2nd Internet revolutions.  Optimizing customer journeys through digital engagement points (web presence, social media, email campaigning), selling with a high degree of affinity for the customer’s preferences, and concluding contracts in hours and days (instead of months and quarter) are all ways that leading companies are differentiating themselves.   

For 2017, we foresee a greater opportunity through digital than ever before. Companies (and individuals) who want to differentiate and go to market quickly and with high customer affinity – can do so for modest investment and effort.   

Finding those right digital business capabilities is what we focus on with our clients. Helping our clients understand the opportunities, how to roll up the sleeves and get forward quickly, and better engage customers.   We believe every company is a digital business, and the digital opportunity awaits in the year ahead.  

Start your digital year right at In a digital world, be different.


Why every company is a digital business

Insights from our first anniversary event: The TouchCR story

Why digital is everyone’s business
Last evening, we celebrated our first anniversary with a holiday event with 80+ attendees, and an amazing keynote from CEO Al Corona, Suzanne Mehta, and Ritchie Hale at TouchCR sharing their business journey.
TouchCR’s origin, a consumer products company needing a better digital marketing solution, was faced with a common digital problem.  The had a large amount of customer data, a need for better targeting of customers, and no evident marketing solution in their industry to meet the needs. 

To solve, they built a better digital marketing platform on top of Salesforce, leveraging the existing SF components and solving for a better solution as Business 2 Consumer (B2C) company.  Having solved their need as a business, they are now taking their digital offering to other B2C companies as a profitable opportunity.  The traction they are seeing is amazing, and the audience last night was extremely engaged with the possibilities.
The TouchCR journey illustrates the digital reality every business faces.  The abundance of data, finding how to better engage customers with insights that data brings, and driving growth quickly– is a strategic ambition for every company. 
The digital insight: Finding the right digital solution for your company is driven first and foremost by your business priorities (and often pain).  Growth, better market engagement, and leveraging your digital assets (information in most cases) to your advantage are areas we help companies identify and help achieve for their own digital journey.   Take a note from TouchCR - leveraging (your data and existing platforms) and going fast forward helps drive market leadership, and ultimately growth!    Thank you to TouchCR for their presentation last night, and partnership in our event! 

Digital business is possible for any company - to learn how we help clients find their answer, get in touch for your 2017 digital strategy assessment!  

The Business Case for Machine Learning: An illustrated example

A common question we help clients solve ‘why would we utilize machine learning (and/or cognitive computing)?’  is answered through a partnership announced this week.

A business problem nearly every company faces today: making sense of the massive amounts of data the various business systems generate each minute of each day. As more companies shift to cloud and big data systems, the information about those very systems (and clouds) themselves is growing exponentially.

More importantly, taking action when the data and performance monitors indicates an issue is arising for customers or colleagues is key to continuous business operations. Stable and healthy business platforms make for happy customers. This is something that companies have wrestled with since the invention of computing systems, often throwing staff, numerous monitoring tools, and significant data analytics funds to address. The race to understand and act has been a continuous and often losing one for most companies.

An illustrative better answer to address this need, was made clear this week via a partnership announcement between SumoLogic and New Relic. These two cloud companies, working in concert - bring their best capabilities together and help solve the need via machine learning and real time infrastructure monitoring.   

New Relic (, a leader in infrastructure monitoring and management for data centers and corporate IT platforms, provides a cloud-based dashboard and resolution management platform for businesses of all sizes.  The amount of systems monitored data that companies generate across their data centers, databases, and now IoT / sensor arrays, is growing exponentially each day.    New Relic aggregates it and provides visibility into the performance levels of a company’s systems, especially during peak times.   

The ability to make sense of all of the data that such a monitoring platform needs to address, and do it with a machine learning insights is now possible from a company like SumoLogic (  SumoLogic, also a cloud-based platform, provides a machine learning offering that makes sense of extremely large data sets, allowing customers to analyze and act on information that is found within the piles of data that are being generated continuously.

The partnership of the two – New Relic’s integration and monitoring abilities, combined with SumoLogics machine learning analysis, provides companies something not previously available: faster-than-human analysis and actions related to cloud platforms and extremely large data sets.   

Now, the impossible task of making sense of it all, is possible.

For companies that utilize one or both platforms today (and run atop the world’s largest cloud provider, Amazon AWS), this is a welcome and much needed capability.  

As companies increasingly implement data generating platforms, making sense of the performance data (health of systems, up times across large arrays of sensors and data center assets, and applications performance) and being able to automate responses is a benefit that ensure the right things are managed (efficiency), drives efficiency (savings), and provides for a better customer experience with higher availability.    All crucial to any company considering a digital business platform and experience.

Why does a company need machine learning and cognitive computing in an era of big data? Because we are building businesses moving too fast and too complex to manage ourselves without help from real time A.I. resources.   Such partnership and capabilities make it possible for us to focus on what matters- the customer experience, in a digital world.

IBM brings the era of Cognitive Business into reality

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty with AlexdaKid discussing the creative process and IBM Watson together

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty with AlexdaKid discussing the creative process and IBM Watson together

IBM Brings the era of Cognitive Business into reality

As the IBM World of Watson concludes here in Las Vegas , the message is clear from IBM CEO Ginni Rometty ‘IBM Watson is our moonshot – meant to improve the human condition with artificial intelligence’.

IBM publicly launched the cognitive computing Watson platform  in 2011.  In it's debut performance, the thinking machine platform was pit against leading human experts on worldwide facts via the US television program Jeopardy.  Watson won.  From these early starts, IBM has been on a steady (and commercial) march towards bringing the Watson platform to the masses.

This week from the stage and conference, it seems IBM has hit critical mass on cognitive business, with a wide spectrum of industries covered, a deep understanding how the artificial intelligence platform can help companies, and announcements of new innovations only possible with IBM Watson platform.  


If the concept of a thinking machine solving humankind’s problems seems far-fetched, consider a recent CBS News broadcast on the benefits in cancer treatment.  

As the 3-minute video clip outlines, the top medical minds in rare cancer treatment achieved the same results as IBM Watson in diagnosis 99% of the time – and Watson found an additional 30% newly uncovered treatments, not known to the doctors, which could prove new courses of treatment for otherwise terminal patients.  (watch the video

IBM Watson is now super charging your mobile experience

An interesting announcement (and in part from the partnership with Apple) from the conference include Watson integration on mobile platforms natively, interacting with you verbally and via text to the databases and systems which it has been connected.  

“Watson, tell me which quarters last year of our business had 20% revenue increases within 100 miles of my location now” via an iPhone voice query is now possible, and without a single line of text typed.   The results can be immediately reviewed, forwarded onto team members, or shared with customers or business leaders.     Being able to answer complex, conditional, and situational is one of the strengths of the IBM Watson platform, all supported by the IBM Cloud infrastructure in 47 countries worldwide.  

A new way to Work with IBM Watson for Work services

Imagine a digital assistant continuously scanning your volume of data sources, and finding the 'signal' through the noise that matters.   That is Watson for Work Services - enabling your daily work flow of information (from email, to twitter, to corporate shared databases and fixed reports) to be analyzed, prioritized, and trended for you.  

You can query (again via voice, mobile, or keyboard) and engage with the various conversations – and Watson pulls the information together into coherent ‘streams’ of collaboration within a team.  

As illustrated by IBM leader Inhi Cho Suh (@inhcho) and IBM team members, the capabilities to bring together dozens of data sources for business decision making into a meaningful flow of information for each employee of a company is a major leap ahead.    

Advancing the regulated industries landscape with cognitive

A third area of transformation is the work IBM is doing with the cognitive analysis in industries heavy with regulation including finance, accounting, real estate, and legal.  Using the same technology that IBM used to ingest 25 million medical diagnoses and manuals, IBM Watson is now being trained to augment and provide quality control capabilities across complex business, legal, and risk management issues. 

The days of having to wait weeks or months for a financial, legal, accounting, or legal matter has been shortened to seconds.  KPMG, a global accounting firm, illustrated how they are able to support their audit staff with cognitive analysis of client files, ensuring a higher degree of accuracy on the audit process (and speeding up the activity significantly).  

This digital disruption brought about by IBM Watson, will no doubt pose career impactful questions to these industries and the millions of those employed therien.   IBM hit these topics head on during the event, speaking about the importance of humanity focusing on the greatest issues as we augment the historic jobs with cognition (e.g. climate,  global diversity, and a sustainable world economy).

Creative cognition

A final area of transformation now possible is the ability to combine the creative process with a cognitively informed ‘best fit’ through millions of assessments done.   IBM Watson has helped designers create new artistic designs for clothing (including a ‘lit’ dress shown on the runways), and with AlexDaKid (@alexdakid) the pop music producer in the production in a new and top trending pop music song.   

In both cases, trending data of human creative endeavors and sentiment were analyzed, and new artistic impressions were jointly developed.   


IBM has cognitive business solutions in place with IBM Watson, ready to be utilized by any company

On the heels of the Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce  announcements of artificial intelligence ahead on their product roadmaps or in beta today, the steps ahead illustrated by IBM provide a clear vision of a company focused on a world-changing ‘moonshot’ – to make it possible for over 1 billion people to be supported by the cognitive platform that is IBM Watson in the next 18 months.  

Given the direction of travel shown at this week’s conference in Las Vegas, IBM seems to have put their money on the right cards.


To learn more about Cognitive computing and the IBM Watson platform, consider joining us on November 14th for our “Rise of the Cognitive Business” event after work in downtown Chicago.   RSVP here  


Top points from Dreamforce 2016 - Einstein knows how to help you sell

This year’s Dreamforce event concluded in San Francisco had innovation for everyone in the announcements and partnerships, with a common thread of tech conferences being the unveiling of SalesForce Einstein, the new artificial intelligence engine soon to be part of the Salesforce eco-system.

Key Salesforce announcements worth note included:

Einstein is here to help 

Cognitive computing at the core of the Salesforce platform.  With the launch of Einstein, companies will now be able to augment the age old ‘sales instincts’ with predictive lead scoring, analytics which leverage real time data of business announcements, and behavioral reports which help companies surface the best potential buyers, most needy support customers, and best ‘next actions’ to take as a services / sale professional.    Similar to IBM Watson, Microsoft Cortana, and the Google DeepMind A.I. capabilities brought to commercial use in the past year, Einstein will provide a new layer of insights, advice, and support to business users of the SF platform.   (read more here)

Making the SF user experience ‘hyper flexible’ and intuitive

A common complaint heard with SF implementations (especially those pre Lightning interface) is the difficulty in navigating the screens and menus to arrive at actionable information.   This has been overcome in part last year with Lightning and the UX changes, and further enabled with the component capabilities launched this week.   The ability to intuitively drag and drop data elements, from dashboards to reports, makes the SF experience a much more intuitive capability.    

Developer friendly with Salesforce Dx

Salesforce, like many platforms, has had limitations in the past on what programmatically was possible, and integrated with only a handful of programming environments and eco-systems.   With Salesforce Dx, developers will now be able to leverage an open dev environment, writing across over a dozen different languages into the SF platform.   Version management (always a challenge in team development) is now intuitive and automations of test environments make the process of writing, testing, and launching iteratively a major improvement.  

300 Apps Lightning ready and counting

With over 300 Lightening ready applications available in the App Exchange for SF, many of the leading integration solutions are now completely compatible with the Lightening platform.   Salesforce’s encouragement to the partner community to conclude the migrations to Lightening for the balance of solutions was a major nudge for many of the partner players.   This is good news for customers and companies, ensuring that the journey from one version of SF to another will conclude in the near future with partner eco-system help.

Time to better collaborate, and chatbot enable Salesforce

Collaboration and chatbot capabilities were frequently cited during keynotes and presentations, including a partnership with Slack and Quip, an acquisition from earlier this year.   Mobility is clearly in the sights for SF in their efforts here.   This is crucial, as the SF Mobile application today has limited capabilities for teams to work together.   Look for more here in the months ahead.   

Acquisitions matter

Acquisitions do matter, with the announcement this week of Krux purchase by SF for over $700m US.  Krux, a digital marketing / data management platform that helps companies better target and campaign pursue customers.   (read the Krux announcement here)

Branding matters

Finally, the SF Trailblazer branding and sales promotion identity was unveiled, bringing home to many how friendly the SF user experience is becoming with these latest innovations and capabilities.  

What does this all mean for business leaders and customers?  

In short, Salesforce is taking the cognitive sales and service cloud to the market head on, and challenging other competitors to bring their A game.  

From the Dreamforce conference this week - with improved usability, greater flexibility and speed with development, deeper capabilities with acquisitions, and an embedding cognitive platform, Salesforce is helping companies focus on what matters most – the customer.  

To learn more about how SalesForce innovations can help your digital business evolve, get in touch with us


Microsoft Ignite: 6 insights on their transformative vision

Microsoft Ignite – Keynote insights from Satya Nadella, CEO and team

This week, Microsoft conducts their annual conference, sharing with business and consumers the technology innovations and solutions they are bringing to market.  This year a number of major announcements made it to stage, and the implications for business are transformative: 

1.     Partnerships are now the rule -  Microsoft began the day with a major announcement with Adobe, sharing how the creative cloud platforms from Adobe will run atop the Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure.   This brings the benefits of data analytics and cognitive computing to the creative capabilities of Adobe, providing dynamic visual representations of knowledge in 34 global regions and compliance certifications.   For companies that are considering how to bring visual rich information in a creative and interactive fashion, it will now be infrastructure and performance possible.

2.     The focus on democratizing the benefits of Artificial Intelligence.    Through the use of the Cortana AI services, Satya and product leaders shared the vision for making the Cortana AI platform at the majority of productivity tasks customers encounter each day.   Intuitively understanding of scheduling challenges, CRM opportunities, and travel / business activities making it possible to have a virtual assistant to all cloud users of Microsoft products.

3.     Application innovations with cloud and cognitive integrated together.   Microsoft shared their abilities to improve the user experiences for all customers, including Myanalytics (to analyze your daily productivity and focus), Skype translation across 8 languages in real time, SwiftKey input innovations, and Delve, surfacing trends in your data repositories important to you.  To illustrate, Dion Sanders, a famous athlete with ties to the Atlanta community, illustrated with Satya which players in a virtual foodball league would be best performers for the game this weekend.  

4.     Transforming the business experience with Dynamics.  Microsoft intends to make the Cortana AI platform integrated with the Dynamics platform, and bring the CRM experiences and business processes closer together through intuitive business process automation.    The integration story of the past several years between various Microsoft business platforms continues to march here –and will be interesting to see how these innovations work (or compete) with solutions from Salesforce (to be announced in a week’s time).  

5.     Augmented reality is now reality in fact.   Microsoft shared how their hololens product, used in conjunction with interior design expertise, can be leveraged to virtually walk through a renovation of a home space, including pricing and logistics implications of the various material designs.   The implications for augmented reality are strong, when it comes to evaluation of real world scenarios (architecture, construction, and retail) and customer behaviors.

6.     Supercomputing on the cloud.   The last highlight today was the creation and deployment of super computing capabilities across the Azure cloud platform.  Through the use of FPGA technology, super-computing artificial intelligence is now able to parse through millions of records and billions of words in a matter of seconds.  This super speed platform will keep up with the rising torrent of information generated in the world, and help companies analyzing massive amounts of data in a fashion that was previously unknown.   This is a MAJOR innovation, simply put.   

The first cut on the announcements

Microsoft has set the bar at a new height for innovation and transformation, and clearly has made the shift from product provider to cloud innovator.  With the reach of Azure as a cloud platform in 34 data centers and on five continents, Microsoft is now able to provide their cloud compute platforms to a global audience.   

The year on year updates are impressive, and the transforming solutions – especially the supercomputing cloud offering – mark a new era of Microsoft technology value for companies and individuals.  



Practically Digital to sponsor SIM Chicago Fall Gala

Change the Game - Join Technology Leaders at the SIM Chicago Fall Gala Thursday 9 / 22

Change the Game - Join Technology Leaders at the SIM Chicago Fall Gala Thursday 9 / 22

Ready to Change the Game?   SIM Chicago is hosting their Fall Gala for technology leaders at the Marriott O'Hare Chicago on Thursday 22nd September, and we are proud to help support the event by sponsoring!  Keynote speaker Jeetu Patel, SVP and Chief Strategy Officer for BOX will be sharing how technology innovation can transformation business

Register now at SIM Chicago