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LET BLOCKCHAIN BOOST CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

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Chandra Surbhat

by Chandra Surbhat, Vice President & Global Head – Connected Customer Experience, Business Application Services, Wipro Limited

Investments by brands in driving unique, personalised, consistent and seamless experiences for customers across all interactions, touch points and channels, has certainly increased speed and convenience for customers. With the exponential increase in customers’ appetite to demand a better-connected experience, brands must stay relevant by adopting the next wave of disruption. Organisations are investing more to drive this further – by reimagining their business process to harness machine learning, leveraging augmented and virtual reality, digital assistants, conversational interfaces that mimic natural human interactions.

Chandra Surbhat

Chandra Surbhat

Despite adopting these technologies, however, trust still needs to be built over the course of generations and is lost quickly in the case of any negative situations. Blockchain holds the potential to shape the future of the connected customer experience, helping brands to build, accelerate and sustain trust with their customers, while significantly transforming speed and convenience. Particularly as GDPR rolls in, blockchain has become more important than ever as it secures information and data on behalf of the customer. Most of all, in an economy that depends on the customer experience, blockchain holds the key to disrupting almost every industry.

Blockchain: why it will change the system

Data is the hottest commodity of the digital world, but the “virtual” individual is owned by intermediaries. Every interaction with a bank, a government, or social media leaves behind a trail of crumbs which the individual cannot control or own. With blockchain, an individual will be able to only share information necessary to receive the service, and in future the individual’s information moves from being a free commodity to an asset which the individual controls and monetises.

GDPR has created an opportunity and necessity for organisations to drive more trust with their employees. Today, large organisations have over 100 processes sharing employee data with third-party organisations with no transparency with their employees. Through blockchain, organisations can drive transparency on information-sharing and provide an option to consent or revoke consent placing the individual in control of the way their personal identifiable information is shared or managed.

Blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties directly with no central node, accomplishing this efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. Each party would have access to the entire database and its complete history as well as the ability to verify any records without an intermediary.

Once a transaction is entered in the database and the accounts are updated, the records cannot be altered.Various algorithms and approaches are deployed to ensure that the recording on the database is permanent, chronologically ordered, and available to all others on the network.

How does blockchain work in the banking world?

Banks are known to use ledgers to maintain a database of every account transaction. They work as a trusted entity to supervise and check the authenticity of a transaction, simultaneously updating the ledger so that people can trade without any concern about frauds.These ledgers, however, are centralised and black-boxed. Blockchain decentralises the same record-keeping functionality by creating an ecosystem wherein a ledger is distributed across a network, and is updated as and when a transaction takes place.The updating of the ledger is managed through a consensus algorithm, thereby maintaining its authenticity.

With every contract, transaction, payment, agreement, process, task digitised that is protected from tampering, deletion and shared with all, blockchain will drive trust, speed and convenience by eliminating the need of intermediaries, banks, lawyers, brokers etc.

VAST: How to test blockchain’s impact

Speed, convenience and trust also form the key elements of the framework used to evaluate the addition of initiatives such as blockchain to drive a connected customer experience (CCX). This framework, VAST, stands for Value creation, Authenticity, Simplify and Time. Blockchain can be tested through the VAST framework to evaluate the relevance and impact of its initiative for a connected customer experience.

  • Value creation

Blockchain has enabled IT to move from the transmission of pure information to the transmission of value. An asset on blockchain will help unleash its value and enables customers to buy, and settle transactions without intermediaries.

Imagine a music company or song writer chooses to put their composition or copyright on blockchain. Now once these assets are put on blockchain, customers can easily trade with complete trust. Through blockchain the musicians and song writers can get paid directly by their fans and get better monetary value for musicians while providing instant gratification to their fans.

In Banking and Payments, blockchain can provide a reliable alternative to time consuming and expensive intermediaries.Blockchain can enable the exchange of value with greater effectiveness and with far lesser costs.

  • Authenticity

Customer experience issues today like missing luggage, food gone bad, delayed delivery of products are addressed only through monetary compensation. Repeated occurrences of such issues can break the customer trust. Moving entire supply chains on blockchain can help organisations to transparently share the exact problem area for an issue and fix it. This will be a significant boost to customer’s brand experience.

Similarly, in a supply chain or a food processing industry, goods can be tracked and managed much more efficiently by putting the whole food supply chain on a blockchain network. A third of food produced is damaged before it could reach the platesi, due to the long chain of procurement which passes through farmers, brokers, warehouses, processors, wholesalers, retailers, logistics and regulators. This results in either discarding the produce or using the foul produce in the processing of some other product, thereby compromising the end user experience. Managing this process using blockchain would allow a retailer or manufacturer to track the exact point in the supply chain, where the food had turned substandard and help them take necessary steps to avoid the experience issues. The same technology could also make an end customer fully aware about the entire process of food processing supply chain and lend more transparency to product claims of organic and geographic sourcing among other things thereby exponentially increasing customer loyalty.

Consider a second-hand vehicle market: a buyer has an ocean full of uncertainties regarding the authenticity and condition of the vehicle. Now, if the buyer can access the complete details about the vehicle, right from the contact of first owner to the latest accident and servicing, it will surely lessen the buyer’s uneasiness and will help them make an informed decision.

In a world increasingly being captured by a parallel counterfeit market, blockchain could act as an advantage to the brands by providing trusted and readily available data about the complete life cycle of a commodity, starting from its inception.

  • Simplify

Through a customer centric approach for process re-imagination and by leveraging consumer technologies, simplified experiences are created. Blockchain, with its ability to eliminate intermediaries, can significantly enhance this simplification. For electronic voting, which has been a dream for governments and citizens alike, traditional technology could provide a solution but blockchain gives citizens a view to confirm if their vote was cast and counted as well.This could also drive citizens’ participation in democratic processes on an ongoing basis for key decision making with voting being made available electronically and less expensive.

  • Time

A world where differentiation is rapidly becoming difficult, the speed of execution helps the brands in maintaining an edge over competitors.

A document such as a letter of credit, that usually takes three to four weeks to process, could be made available to customers in just few hours.In the B2B world, dramatic change can take place if the time taken to pay suppliers changes from weeks to a couple of days.

Smart contracts, that can be written in blockchain, executes as soon as the underlying agreements are fulfilled, thus eliminating expensive contract disputes and implementation challenges by taking it away from human intervention. These features would not only enhance the CCX but would also help the companies to get the maximum out of their workforce by expediting the whole process.

Driving future experience for a connected customer

With the Internet of Things (IoT), devices will need to securely communicate with each other and take decisions as well on behalf of the customer. Blockchain can be the ledger for IoT communication and transactions.Imagine a light bulb getting power from neighbour’s solar panel, blockchain can offer a moving, storing and managing value and peer to peer communication in the IoT world.

Leveraging the VAST framework, brands can frame their next series of actions to drive customer experience with the help of blockchain.

In the age of “experience economy”, blockchain has the potential to disrupt every industry. The technology should be tapped to transform connected customer experience by enhancing speed, convenience& trust.

Reference: i – IFAO – http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/

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Exclusive: China’s Huawei, reeling from U.S. sanctions, plans foray into EVs – sources

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Exclusive: China's Huawei, reeling from U.S. sanctions, plans foray into EVs - sources 1

By Julie Zhu and Yilei Sun

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Huawei plans to make electric vehicles under its own brand and could launch some models this year, four sources said, as the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, battered by U.S. sanctions, explores a strategic shift.

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is in talks with state-owned Changan Automobile and other automakers to use their car plants to make its electric vehicles (EVs), according to two of the people familiar with the matter.

Huawei is also in discussions with Beijing-backed BAIC Group’s BluePark New Energy Technology to manufacture its EVs, said one of the two and a separate person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The plan heralds a potentially major shift in direction for Huawei after nearly two-years of U.S. sanctions that have cut its access to key supply chains, forcing it to sell a part of its smartphone business to keep the brand alive.

Huawei was placed on a trade blacklist by the Trump administration over national security concerns. Many industry executives see little chance that blocks on the sale of billions of dollars of U.S. technology and chips to the Chinese company, which has denied wrongdoing, will be reversed by his successor.

A Huawei spokesman denied the company plans to design EVs or produce Huawei branded vehicles.

“Huawei is not a car manufacturer. However through ICT (information and communications technology), we aim to be a digital car-oriented and new-added components provider, enabling car OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to build better vehicles.”

Huawei has started internally designing the EVs and approaching suppliers at home, with the aim of officially launching the project as early as this year, three of the sources said.

Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group who led the company to become one of the world’s largest smartphone makers, will shift his focus to EVs, said one source. The EVs will target a mass-market segment, another source said.

All the sources declined to be named as the discussions are private.

Chongqing-based Changan, which is making cars with Ford Motor Co, declined to comment. BAIC BluePark did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Shares of Changan’s main listed company Chongqing Changan Automobile rose 8% after Reuters reported the discussions. BluePark’s shares jumped by their maximum 10% daily limit.

GROWING EV MARKET

Chinese technology firms have been stepping up their focus on EVs in the world’s biggest market for such vehicles, as Beijing heavily promotes greener vehicles as a means of reducing chronic air pollution.

Sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs), including pure battery electric vehicles as well as plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, are expected to make up 20% of China’s overall annual auto sales by 2025.

Industry forecasts put China’s NEV sales at 1.8 million units this year, up from about 1.3 million in 2020.

Huawei’s ambitious plans to make its own cars will see it join a raft of Asian tech companies that have made similar announcements in recent months, including Baidu Inc and Foxconn.

“The novel and complicated U.S. restrictions on semiconductors to Huawei have slowly been strangling the company,” said Dan Wang, a technology analyst with research firm Gavekal Dragonomics.

“So it makes sense that the company is pivoting to less chip-intensive industries in order to maintain operations.”

In the United States, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc are also developing auto-related technology or investing in smart-car startups.

Huawei has been developing a swathe of technologies for EVs for years including in-car software systems, sensors for automobiles and 5G communications hardware.

The company has also formed partnerships with automakers such as Daimler AG, General Motors Co and SAIC Motor to jointly develop smart auto technologies.

It has accelerated hiring of engineers for auto-related technologies since 2018.

Huawei was awarded at least four patents related to EVs this week, including methods for charging between electric vehicles and for checking battery health, according to official Chinese patent records.

Huawei’s push into the EV market is currently separate from a joint smart vehicle company it co-founded along with Changan and EV battery maker CATL in November, two of the sources said.

(Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Yilei Sun in Beijing; additional reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Richard Pullin)

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Facebook switches news back on in Australia, signs content deals

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Facebook switches news back on in Australia, signs content deals 2

By Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Facebook Inc ended a one-week blackout of Australian news on its popular social media site on Friday and announced preliminary commercial agreements with three small local publishers.

The moves reflected easing tensions between the U.S. company and the Australian government, a day after the country’s parliament passed a law forcing it and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay local media companies for using content on their platforms.

The new law makes Australia the first nation where a government arbitrator can set the price Facebook and Google pay domestic media to show their content if private negotiations fail. Canada and other countries have shown interest in replicating Australia’s reforms.

“Global tech giants, they are changing the world but we can’t let them run the world,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, adding that Big Tech must be accountable to sovereign governments.

Facebook, whose 8-day ban on Australian media captured global attention, said it had signed partnership agreements with Schwartz Media, Solstice Media and Private Media. The trio own a mix of publications, including weekly newspapers, online magazines and specialist periodicals.

Facebook did not disclose the financial details of the agreements, which will become effective within 60 days if a full deal is signed.

“These agreements will bring a new slate of premium journalism, including some previously paywalled content, to Facebook,” the social media company said in a statement.

The non-binding agreements allay some fears that small Australian publishers would be left out of revenue-sharing deals with Facebook and Google.

“It’s never been more important than it is now to have a plurality of voices in the Australian press,” said Schwartz Media Chief Executive Rebecca Costello.

Facebook on Tuesday struck a similar agreement with Seven West Media, which owns a free-to-air television network and the main metropolitian newspaper in the city of Perth.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp has said it was also in talks with Facebook.

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva said in a statement published on Friday the company had found a “constructive path to support journalism”.

She thanked Australian users of the search engine for “bearing with us while we’ve sent you messages about this issue”.

Facebook and Google threatened for months to pull core services from Australia if the media laws, which some industry players claim are more about propping up ailing local media, took effect.

While Google struck deals with several publishers including News Corp as the legislation made its way through parliament, Facebook took the more drastic step of blocking all news content in Australia.

That stance led to amendments to the laws, including giving the government the power to exempt Facebook or Google from mandatory arbitration, and Facebook on Friday began restoring the Australian news sites.

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Richard Pullin and Jane Wardell)

 

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China’s factory activity growth likely moderated during February holiday lull – Reuters poll

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China's factory activity growth likely moderated during February holiday lull - Reuters poll 3

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s factory activity likely grew at a slightly slower rate in February as factories closed for the Lunar New Year holiday, a Reuters poll showed, although growth is expected to remain firm, buoyed by an early resumption of production.

The official manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) is expected to dip marginally to 51.1 in February from 51.3 in January, according to the median forecast of 20 economists polled by Reuters. A reading above 50 indicates an expansion in activity on a monthly basis.

Chinese factories typically scale back operations or close for lengthy periods around the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in the middle of February this year.

However, the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the winter had prompted local governments and companies to dissuade workers from travelling back to their hometowns, giving a boost to the earlier-than-usual resumption of production at many factories, analysts say.

“Although government COVID-19 prevention measures may constrain some manufacturing activities in the near-term, the fact that a majority of migrant workers stayed in their workplace cities for the holiday should facilitate an earlier resumption of business activity following the holiday this year,” said analysts at Nomura in a note to client on Thursday.

Wang Zhishen, a migrant worker from Gansu, told Reuters that his factory, a manufacturer of logistics boxes in the manufacturing hub of Dongguan, only closed for three days during the holiday, thanks to overwhelming businesses. Lured by the 1,500-yuan cash subsidy his factory offered, he chose to work through the holiday.

The Chinese economy has largely shaken off the gloom from the COVID-19 health crisis, with consumers opening up their wallets after months of hesitation. Growth is now set to rebound sharply this quarter, also helped by the low base effect of a year ago.

The country has successfully curbed the domestic transmission of the COVID-19 virus in northern China, with the national health authority reporting zero new local cases for the 11th straight day. Cities that were on lockdown have since vowed to push for a work resumption at full speed.

The official PMI, which largely focuses on big and state-owned firms, and its sister survey on the services sector, will both be released on Sunday.

The private Caixin manufacturing PMI will be published on Monday. Analysts expect the headline reading will dip slightly to 51.4 from 51.5 in January.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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