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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Architecture Needed to Monetize APIs

The Harvard Business Review Article, “The Strategic Value of APIs” says, “…there are multiple ways APIs can generate growth for companies. While many may see APIs as just a technical concept, they clearly overlook the rising strategic significance of APIs. Particularly with the internet of things bringing digitization to all kinds of products and services, the influence of APIs is growing far beyond technology firms. All CEOs may soon need to
find ways to align APIs with their growth strategies.”

shutterstock_210232156The three major trends of social, mobile, and cloud are greatly impacting how businesses and customers connect and engage with their customers and employees. APIs are a foundational technology that enables companies to participate in the digital economy. APIs open up the potential for the creation of entirely new businesses models or the establishment of new primary channels for products and services. The ecosystem created by connected enterprises, customers and suppliers via APIs have an economic effect – The API Economy.

Providing programmable access to systems and data can provide strategic and economic value. For example, the APIs provided by Amazon, eBay and Facebook are the primary means for paying customers to access their platforms. Like these born-on-the-web companies many traditional companies are looking to provide systems as platforms and offer information and services via APIs. These platforms require a modern architecture as well as a business strategy to monetize APIs.

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Driving Digital Transformation with Expanded eCommerce Solutions

In 2014, online stores are on target to generate an estimated $294 billion, or approximately 9% of all U.S. retail sales, according to forecasts by Forrester Research. They also report that by 2018, e-commerce market will reach $414 billion, with transactions made with tablets and smartphones accounting for about 20%.

shutterstock_140618308 (1)The announcement of Perficient’s acquisition of Zeon Solutions expands our already considerable e-commerce solutions capabilities, with a front leader of e-commerce technology and new partner Magento, an eBay company.  With a consistent 26% share of the e-commerce market Magento is seeing more and more online stores adopt their powerful software. Magento Enterprise Edition is a complete ecommerce solution for businesses that are ready to take control of their online sales channel including:

  • Attract and retain more customers through enhanced search engine optimization (SEO), customer segmentation, targeted promotions and merchandising, product suggestions and ratings & reviews
  • Make buying easy with powerful search functionality, layered navigation, customer-assisted shopping, multiple payment & shipping options and return authorization management
  • Foster brand affinity with rewards programs, wish lists, gift registry and gift cards, to name a few

Perficient is focused on creating digital business transformations, adding partnerships and services and solutions that can help companies define and deliver their digital ecosystem strategies.  We have created a powerful end-to-end digital solutions experience that effectively address market changes and helps realize lasting business results for our clients.

To read more about the acquisition of Zeon Solutions, click here.


Digital Transformation is All Around Us…Again

The phrase “Digital Transformation” has re-emerged as a new phenomenon. Google tells me there are 49 million (49,000,000) search results for the words Digital Transformation.

First, why do I say it is a phenomenon? It seems that many of our leading think-tanks are talking about digital transformation. Here are some examples:

But is Digital Transformation new?  Not really. The idea of digital transformation goes back many years. My guess is that it first arrived as a concept back in the 1990s when we were going through our first dot-com bubble.  In fact, way back in 2000, Keyur Patel and Mary Pat McCarthy published a book titled Digital Transformation: The Essentials of E-business Leadership.

Back in the day, companies like Amazon, Priceline and others were redefining business models, business processes and customer engagement using digital as the mainstay.  Many of these early digital transformation pioneers crashed and burned in the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, but several have become powerhouses.

So why is Digital Transformation re-emerging as a new phenomenon now?  Or why, all of a sudden, are we talking about Digital Transformation again?

In my opinion, we now (finally!) have several important technologies that have matured enough and when combined together have the capability to be truly transformative.  I’ll mention a few of the technologies or concepts below and then talk about how a combination of these technologies can lead to an even higher level of customer engagement and can improve business outcomes.

First, let’s talk about big data. In the early days, our systems could not handle the amount of data or provide timely analysis of what we captured.  We had to wait until the end of the day, week or month to really analyze large volumes of data. Now we have platforms and systems capable of processing massive amounts of data and we have analytics systems that can sort through the data to provide us meaningful insights within seconds. Companies are using these capabilities to understand customer buying behaviors as fast as trends start to appear.

Second, we have “The Cloud”. Before the cloud, companies were tied to limitations of hardware buying practices.  When you wanted to build a new system, you had to wait for the servers to be acquired and installed, physical space has to be developed, network firewalls configured, etc, etc.  If your site started to get overloaded it could take weeks to add the required capacity.  “The Cloud” has enabled companies to create systems quickly and now can react quickly to changes in demand without tying us to those infrastructure buying cycles. Its becoming ever easier to connect systems and “things” together around the world.

Third, mobile.  Mobile, mobile, mobile.  As one person recently said, if you don’t have a mobile optimized web site, you are already behind.  Mobile was not a factor in the early days of digital transformation. Thanks to smart phones, anybody can now participate in the digital world any time of the day.

Fourth, we have new technologies for creating excellent customer experiences. Web Content Management Systems, Portals, and eCommerce platforms have tooling to create great sites, can be mobile ready, and can take advantage of analytics to tailor each user’s experience.

Combining all of these technologies can lead to the digital revolution we are now undergoing. Here is an example:

A customer enters a store carrying a smart phone.  A beacon system in the store monitors the customer’s movements. This data is relayed through a cloud-based system and combined with other store data from around the world.  Two transformative things are happening simultaneously:

  1. The customer stops in front of canoe on display.  Our beacon tells our content management system that the customer has stopped near this particular canoe.  Our CMS sends a notification to the customer’s smartphone with information about the canoe and a link to a video showing how fun it is.  After the customer buys the canoe, we connect their phone with the registration information in our CRM system and use that data to begin offering the customer additional content on our website.
  2. Data from all customer movement in all stores are combined into our big data system.  Analytics on that data reveals that our customers are tending to move toward a certain display area.  Using that information, we reconfigure some stores and move the display toward the front.  After monitoring the new layout, we can continue to make adjustments to optimize the store based on our customers’ behaviors while shopping.

In the early days of digital transformation, this example would not have been possible given the technology available at the time. Now this example is real and has been implemented in the U.S.

This example shows why Digital Transformation is so important. Companies that align their businesses to take advantage of all these capabilities will be more connected to their customers and will have better insights into their customers’ expectations.

Drug or Drug Device Portals

Eugene Sefanov has a nice post on the value of a patient portal for those who use a specialty drug or drug device.  He goes into some detail on the possible use cases with that kind of portal.  I like the approach  he takes.  Just being prescribed a drug doesn’t mean you are going to get the right outcome.  Anything you can do to ensure the patient has all the support he or she needs will improve that outcome.

An effective way to provide patient support is through a portal that is specific to a particular drug or medical device. A good case study revolves around a patient portal that Eisai, a pharmaceutical company with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and metabolic disorders, implemented for their weight-loss medication called BELVIQ. The portal is designed to help patients reach their weight loss goals, sustain their efforts, as well as provide safety-related information.

Users of BELVIQ can access Eisai’s portal for free and leverage a variety of educational resources and tools including:

  • Articles and tips on how to manage weight issues through eating and staying active

  • Overview of the drug

  • Important drug safety information and how to report adverse events

  • Customized meal recipes

  • Access to a mobile application for tracking calories and exercise

  • Savings card and coupons

Euguene goes on to list other possible uses of the portal so be sure to check out the entire post.


IBM, Microsoft to Let Each Other Use More Software in The Cloud

Interesting news came today. Two software behemoths and sometime fierce competitors have decided that co-opetition may be the best model. IBM and Microsoft today announced a partnership making it easier for cloud customers to access each other’s software.

The News

IBM cloud users will be able to get Microsoft products like Windows Server and SQL Server, while customers of Microsoft’s Azure service can use IBM’s WebSphere Liberty and DB2, the companies said today in a statement. Clients will be able to cut costs by using software licenses they already own on each company’s cloud.

Cloud computing is transforming the technology industry by letting companies rent processing power and data storage over the Internet instead of buying and maintaining their own hardware. The shift is pitting the giants of corporate computing, like IBM and Microsoft, against relative newcomers like Inc. and Google Inc.

My Take

While the IBM and Microsoft news is new, the partnership approach among legacy software vendors is not new. (See Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft news) The article correctly states the pressure being put upon both Microsoft and IBM by the likes of Amazon and Google.  Yes, Microsoft has poured billions into a strong Office 365 SaaS offering and in Azure. Yes, Azure is worth more than a billion dollars to Microsoft right now. IBM bought Softlayer which is known for being an easy to use and manage IaaS / PaaS play. IBM is also in the process of putting every piece of software they own on Softlayer. If there’s a cloud play  at IBM, it’s going on Softlayer.

However, both Microsoft and IBM have a problem. What do you do when a client says they have Java apps on Linux or some .net apps on C#?  What do you do when SQL Server or DB2 is involved? Well, you could order up another cloud service that supports either of those options or you partner with your sometimes nemesis to put together a more comprehensive offering. Obviously Microsoft and IBM have chosen the latter.

Here’s another value.  IBM excels in the middleware layer with MQ, WebSphere ESB, PureApp and WebSphere Liberty.  Microsoft excels with firewall, virtualization (Hyper-V), and SQL Server. With both companies now supporting these tools on their respective cloud platforms, you open up a lot options when it comes to building true enterprise solutions. It makes both companies more competitive.

Overall, this can only be good for both because most times the competition isn’t IBM or Microsoft or Oracle for that matter.  It’s Amazon and Google. So it makes sense to do this. I only question how much of a difference this will make. In a world where these large software companies talk about a billion or multiple billions of dollars in revenue from cloud platforms, will this pump up the revenue enough to make a difference?  I don’t know the answer, although I welcome any and all thoughts on the subject.

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A Day in the Life of a Social Media Manager

In the BufferSocial blog, Kevan Lee posted an article for Social Media Managers.  The post takes a look a “typical” social media manager’s day and breaks down that day into many different activities, represented in the info graphic here.   

Mr. Lee also provides several different views on how other people spend their days managing social media.  One person, Finola Howard, manages to compress all her daily activities into just one hour per day. Her tasks include:

  • Use SocialOomph to figure out which new twitter followers to accept
  • Measure which posts are performing the best so you can take advantage of them
  • Schedule tweets and posts for the day.  She uses Buffer for this, other use tools like Hootsuite.
  • Find content
  • Respond to others
  • Monitor engagement of fans and followers

In general, the post identifies 12 tasks of a social media manager.  The twelve tasks are shown here and the article does a great job of explaining each of them.

If you manage social networking within your company, say using IBM Connections, Yammer, Jive or others, you should also pay attention to the tasks.  Each of these 12 tasks apply to internal as well as external social managers.

In addition, Mr. Lee provides a series of checklists for the social media manager.  These lists come from places like Mindbrew Creative, HeroX, Hootsuite and others.  Even by itself, the various checklists are well worth your time to understand.

Overall, A day in the Life of a Social Media Manager is extremely valuable and full of great information.

How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, Part 2: Portlets

In part 1 of this series, How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, I wrote about the infrastructure and installation aspects of Portals. To make the tasks of managing and installing portals, I recommended cloud solutions and for IBM, their PureApplication system both in the cloud and on-premise.

In Part 2, I turn my attention to applications and how to make task of developing portal applications more lightweight.

The goal of a portal is to combine applications and content at the glass for a user.  By this definition alone, we should always think of how to make lightweight portlets.  If you have a larger application to build, break it down into core components that can be built into separate portlets, rather than one large portlet.

Even if you can get to smaller, bite-sized applications or portlets, you are still faced with the underlying framework imposing additional layers on your efforts.  We’ll focus on Java-based portals to make the discussion simple and I’ll use IBM WebSphere Portal as an example.  Say we want to simply display a feed from Reuters as shown in our first picture here.

Reuters News Service

Reuters News Service

Reuters provides the javascript, so all we need to do is put it into a portlet for display on our page.

To create a portlet for use in IBM WebSphere Portal, a developer is going to use IBM Rational Application Developer (already a heavy-weight tool), create a new project using a wizard, fill in some details about the portlet, like name, Java version, etc.  and then hit go.  RAD will do a nice job of building the portlet shell with all the right components set up.  These components include xml files, TLD files, libraries or references, file folders and start JSP files.  Already, we have a lot of code to manage.

Once I put in my custom code, I then have to build the project, create a .war file, and then deploy it to WebSphere Portal. After its deployed, I can create a portal page, and my new portlet and I’m all set.  In most IT shops, build and deploy to production can take weeks or months just because IT has to control the changes to production very tightly.

If I’m a business guy who just wants a very simple portlet, this makes portal look heavyweight to me, but its likely the process than the technology.

So how to fix this?

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Why Patient Portals Remain Healthcare’s Enigma has an interesting article about why patient portals just aren’t popular.  I think the author, Brian Eastwood, gets some things right but also misses some key reasons or challenges.  Here’s what he got right.

  1. Why Patient Portals Remain Healthcare's EnigmaAdoption just isn’t very high. No one is using the patient portals that are out there.
  2. Doctors don’t use portals………….and they don’t have patients who use portals.  In other words, if a medical provider still thinks the best way to communicate is when someone is sitting in front of them then things won’t change.
  3. The features don’t match what your users want………. and herein lies the rub.

Now I don’t disagree with what Brian says. I think he makes a number of great points.  But I also take issue with one point he makes:

So what will get patients to use a portal? It’s not as hard as providers may think. The functionality that patients told Software Advice that they want – scheduling appointments, paying bills, viewing lab tests, refilling prescriptions and emailing staff – should sound familiar (on the face of it, at least) to anyone who regularly uses ecommerce applications.

Here’s the reality.  Patient portals are hard. They are harder than many ecommerce or consumer sites that sport similar functionality.  Frankly, they aren’t that much harder from a technical perspective but there are a number of issues getting in the way.  Let me name a few of them.

  1. Healthcare in general is still coming up to speed in their technology evolution.  You don’t just launch a bill pay option without a hook to both your billing back end system and a payment gateway.  Both are foreign concepts to many healthcare providers.   By providers I mean doctors and hospitals.  So slapping a front end onto something isn’t going to solve your problems.
  2. Healthcare is a mishmash of systems that never wanted to communicate with each other and weren’t architected to do so.  I can tell you about hospitals who have a patient pre-register online and then pay someone to key that data into their EMR because the EMR doesn’t have any hooks. I can tell you about trying to pull certain data from an EMR and then missing key information demanded by MU2.  Many companies are springing up whose sole job in life is to allow you to schedule an appointment online because of the variety of systems without proper hooks.
  3. Healthcare is comprised of many, many, many separate entities.  You may find a doctor on a hospital site or an insurance site but they are only affiliated to the doctor at best. That doctor won’t support a common standard to let you query their scheduling system and make an appointment.  This disjointedness leads to challenges.
  4. Doctors don’t like spending money on technology.  Yes, there are exceptions but most would far rather build a new office, add on a hospital wing, or buy a cool surgery robot.  Many think of technology from the standpoint of their tablet or computer and don’t understand the complexities of multiple server systems supporting high uptime, disaster recovery, security, etc.  Lack of funding until very recently means you have so much further to climb.
  5. Conflicting government rules make it difficult to create a good patient experience.   HIPAA demands you keep all patients data intact.  MU2 demands you open up that data to your patients.  Specific rules within both conflict.  People in charge of security within these healthcare organizations tend to take the least risk approach and demand multiple levels of security that adds to the expense very quickly.  Let me give you the most common example of how this can go wrong.  I know of multiple hospitals that only let you register for the patient portal in person and with your id.  Using your patient id, unique number from your last discharge, and common questions from your credit report all fail the test.  Only an in person visit will do.   If you want to see and manage healthcare for your child, that only adds to the complexity.  This means that in order to run a successful patient portal, you have to modify your business processes to have front office and discharge people do one more thing and do it in a secure fashion.
  6. Most out of the box patient portals………and I use out of the box very lightly here, only support you accessing your medical record.  They don’t even do a great job of that. These EMR based portals let you see your lab results but they don’t help you interpret them.  They are sometimes very hard to read.  These portals don’t provide access to bill pay, find a doctor, pre-registration, classes and events, or schedule appointments.   They don’t personalize the experience and tell you about your care team.   Many of these portals have no plans to add these types of functionality into their patient portals because adding these features is hard given the diverse number of systems out there.

I want to make one final comment which Brian gets right in his article.  I think that with lots of room for improvement comes a lot of opportunity for healthcare providers to truly engage their patients.  A lot of these providers are looking to the future and asking what it will take to do true patient engagement and to add in features like sensor uploads, better reporting, proactive personalization that helps you understand what’s in your medical record etc.  So while it’s an uphill slog, the future is bright.

Hilton Changes The Game, Mobile Enables It

Hilton announced on their web site that they plan to change the game when it comes to the guest experience at their hotels.  While the press release doesn’t state the investment, the Wall Street Journal quotes it at $550 million.  But what’s really cool is that the smart phone will become:

  • Your room key: bypass the line and head straight to your room
  • The way to choose your room: choose your room from a map of the hotel
  • Special requests: get upgrade, ask for amenities, etc.

At first glance you may wonder why it costs $550M but if you think about it, Hilton had to do quite a bit to make this work.  First they had to enable a map.  That probably comes from a back end system or two or three or four………    Of course, you have to then do the integration and put a nice wrapper on it because I guarantee that it doesn’t look good to start.  When you add in new amenities and want to build an infrastructure that’s more ecommerce like, then you make even more work for yourself.  Using NFC or some other standard also ensures a change in every single hotel room lock.  That will probably drive the majority of the cost.

But think about what they get out of this investment.  First, they get the cache of being first with a key enabling technology. Second, if they architected this right, they setup their application to do everything.  If you can get a special amenity ordered up then how hard should it be to order room service?  How about adding in concierge requests for tickets to that special event or restaurant?  Of course there’s the chance to treat all the elite guests in a special way.   They walk through the door and notify them you opened up a set of rooms they can choose for an upgrade.  Tell them they just earned faster internet or that they should stop by the mini-store for a treat.   The skies the limit as far as what you can do now that the Hilton App became a must use application.

I’m excited about the possibilities here.






Why Social Needs to be Part of Your Portal

IBM’s 2014 Digital Experience Conference started Wednesday off with a great session by Mac Guidera, Social Workforce Strategist from IBM, titled “Why Social Needs to be Part of Your Portal.”  The session was very insightful blending a mix of statistics, trends, best practices and insightful thoughts.

Why Social Needs to be Part of Your PortalSocial Business Patterns

Patterns represent modernized processes with dynamic, repeatable and measurable “people interactions” created by building social into work and life.  These patterns are repeatable way to interact an engage, share innovative ideas, finding out who knows what and find information.  Key patterns include:

  • Customer Engagement
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer Service
  • Recruiting
  • Supply Chain
  • Expertise and Knowledge
  • Workplace & Safety

Each of these patterns has value propositions and ROI, for example Customer Service maps to customer satisfaction, increased revenue and efficiency.  Marketing can map to awareness, marketing effectiveness and trust. Read the rest of this post »