Πέμπτη, 13 Οκτωβρίου 2011

Interview with Kostas Karlaftis, Director of Corporate R&D and Product Manager (KEFALAIO ERP), ALTEC Software S.A.




On blogging both as a technology and as a business


How can we exploit blogging as a concept and blogging technologies in regard to our business?

This is not a trivial question. Many of our customers would love to be continuously up-to-date on their customers’ attitudes and opinions regarding their products. So, in this respect it is useful to supply them with mechanisms for capturing information that may appear on the blogosphere and is relevant to their products. Same way one may capture information about people’s attitudes for brands, companies or events and other developments in the market and in the society at large.

So, again the question for me is: how relevant is this to our business?

Historically our products are classified as business information systems. This means that we supply people out there in the market with the necessary tools to perform daily – routine – tasks as well as non-routine tasks. Issuing an invoice is for sure a routine task – there is usually one way only to do it. However, if we deal with business development tasks there is need for people to collect less or no structured data and information at all. It is at this point that our interest in blogging enters the stage.

Can we imagine a future where people may automatically share their experiences for products or services on the official corporate blogs?

Or not necessarily official corporate blogs but independent blogs or blogs that are governed by third trusted parties or organisations that seem to not serve commercial purposes. The idea of companies as open innovation centres that continuously create value for the customers and the society may co-exist with the idea of watching what appears in blogs and taking care so that all comments and criticism or information is used.

Customer support – how much people found a customer experience as satisfactory or poor is also relevant here. The technology can help increase the quality of services offered, so again one can put together blogging technologies with technologies for ERP systems and technologies for quality management.

I have intentionally drawn a picture with bright colours. Of course there are problems and gray areas. For example, whose property are the comments made in a blog? Certainly there are obvious answers but imagine the case of a brilliant idea for the introduction of an innovative improvement to a product that is shared by a customer in the official corporate blog. By the time the company introduces this novelty, does it own anything to this particular customer? Openness is a good thing but here it goes about money. Another issue is this of potential harming the image of a product. Bloggers tend to usually dramatise the events or the data they provide. This is good for marketing purposes – but how can a company capitalise on this wild reality of several millions of people telling their individual views and opinions in an uncontrolled way? Many opinions may be praising a product and help bring new customers while many other views and opinions may do the opposite: discourage people from buying a specific product or service.

Till today we were not thinking of embracing blogging technologies officially to our products. By means of incorporating them we have to also find the appropriate business model on how to govern our companies and our businesses when supplied with such a technology.

Last but not least, the idea of using blogs for acquiring business intelligence information that will offer input to a company’s decision makers in a structured way is one of the less obvious though more safe ways to exploit the big pools of data.

On the need for experimentation

Where to start from? Does an e-shop offer the best suitable case for experimentation? Or is it better to experiment with a consumer goods manufacturer?

My feeling is that there is no way to guarantee the success of any experimentation. So the best it to keep all options open.

Sometimes I imagine the future of our business: will people need to communicate directly? Will the transactions amongst businesses – what we call B2B – look the same as today? Does blogging also offer us a possibly new paradigm?

When considering the Internet of Things and the Internet of Contents, one can see that blogs can incorporate both: a blog is about “something”: tangible or intangible, while it also collects information about this “something”. In the future many synchronous communications that take place in the commercial world the way we all know, may change to take totally new forms. So it is in this respect that blogging is interesting for us: except from examining blogging as it is now, we elaborate on its potential to change the way that companies carry out their processes. This may seem a bit futuristic but don’t underestimate the power of a paradigm shift. How much has Twitter changed our lives? The answer is much. But when thinking about how much Twitter changed the way business conduct their activities, the answer is ‘not at all’. For me however, the right answer is ‘not at all yet’ as there remains much to be seen.

Preparing for the future innovations and matching with market needs and potential


What I consider as the most important developments in the market in the last years are:
-        The unprecedented rates of innovation in ICT and rapid adoption of new technologies, new devices and any other kind of novelty introduced in the field;
-        The shift from traditional User Interfaces to more diverse ones that can be used in a large variety of contexts and exploit better the characteristics of new types of devices like tablets and smart phones; and last but not least
-        The economic crisis that makes the market all over EU and in Greece, of course, more sceptical and hesitant on new investments in technology.

We have been exploring with many ideas in the past and we continuously question ourselves about new possible ways to design better applications and systems for every day tasks in the office environment. Social Tagging is such a case: as a process by which many users can add metadata in the form of keywords, to annotate and categorize items like comments, pictures, web links or other information related to products and services. Social tagging systems and blogs can for example provide three different types of recommendations to customers and consumers: they can recommend (i) tags to users, based on what tags other users have used for the same items (ii) items to users, based on tags they have in common with other similar users, and (iii) users with common social interest, based on common tags on similar items. In what I may wrongly describe as conventional data mining research, semantic information has been used in order to improve the quality of extracted knowledge. However, in blog mining operations, it is important to improve the ‘navigation’ patterns so that people who use a corporate system are given all the necessary expressive power to suggest widely-varying ways of navigating across different blog data and information grids.