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Determining the Value of the Virtual Shopping Experience

We are increasingly hearing about the value of improving the shopping experience by adding virtual expertise to the store. As head of Cisco’s Retail & Hospitality practice, I frequently talk to customers who are exploring this concept – though what I mainly hear are questions! While many are interested in the idea, they are still trying figure out whether or not a virtual customer expert is going to add more revenue to their bottom line.

Putting a collaborative expert into the store – virtual or physical – can actually be critical to meeting the needs of the consumer, especially during the purchase of a high-priced product or for a purchase where it is very important to make the right decision. However, very often this level of expertise is not available in the aisle when the consumer is dwelling there. And yet, the presence of such an expert can be extremely important. For example:

  1. A mother is shopping for an over-the-counter decongestant late in the evening for her child, who is also taking medication for ADD. A pharmacist is not available, but getting the wrong medication could be life-threatening.
  2. A couple is buying a printer for their college-age daughter, who shares an apartment with three other students. They need a printer that can be networked so all four girls can print their assignments and research papers.
  3. A party host would like to purchase several cases of wine that complement the menu, but are not overwhelmingly expensive.
  4. A couple is browsing the latest assortment of home security devices, trying to make sense of what will work with their current network configuration.

Savvy retailers debate how to solve the problem of providing highly paid experts to be immediately available to consumers, without footing the bill for an employee who may be idle part of the time. Additionally, it may be necessary to provide a level of privacy while engaging the expert. The retailer’s quandary is how to attractively offer this service in a way to increase basket and justify this use of valuable selling space.

Forward-looking retailers recognize that this capability is part of providing a truly integrated omnichannel experience. Shoppers are no longer either in the store or online… they are both, and sometimes at the same time. Thanks to our mobile devices, consumers can research, compare prices, and shop with our mobile devices in the aisle. According to Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, retailers need to adopt a “digical” strategy – a term coined by Bain & Company’s Darrell Rigby and Suzanne Tager – meaning the seamless integration of digital with physical retail. (For more, check out the article, “The Future of Retail Will Be Won or Lost in ‘Digical.’”)

In any channel in this digical world, retailers will lose revenue if they are unable to differentiate themselves by providing excellent value, combined with the appropriate amount of customer service. And here is where the virtualized experience can drive a new level of engagement for the brick-and-mortar store. Via video collaboration on a consumer’s mobile device, a kiosk display, online, or an associate’s tablet, shoppers looking for advice can easily connect with your centralized or outsourced pool of experts for immediate assistance. Let’s go back to the scenarios above:

  1. A QR code is posted on a sign that reads: “Photograph this sign with your mobile device and you can speak to one of our pharmacists on call 24×7.” The pharmacy service immediately calls the mother’s mobile phone number to discuss which medication will be safe for her ADD son.
  2. An associate in the printer aisle approaches the couple and boots up an expert session on his tablet to discuss feeds, speeds, and price points. This helps the family determine which printer will best fit their daughter’s needs.
  3. The party host approaches a kiosk to engage a wine expert. He enters the date and time of the party so that weather can be taken into account, the centerpiece menu items, and his desired price range. He then engages with a virtual expert who provides options as well as a special discount based on the number of cases. Additionally, he is offered a 50% discount on disposable wine goblets.
  4. As the couple browses an array of home security options, the retailer pushes a promotion to their mobile device: “If you would like a complementary home security assessment, follow this link to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.” This in-home expert then cross-sells and upsells products from a tablet in the home, and schedules an in-store meeting when products arrive to discuss installation.

When used in conjunction with brick and mortar, virtual in-store and online expertise complement the natural selling journey with consumers to fill an important gap in the omnichannel experience. Click here to learn more about Cisco’s thinking in this area, or contact me at

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Espionage in the Internet Age

If you had asked me a few years ago, I might have predicted that the rise of large scale hacking and network-based Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) would spell the end of old-school espionage (poison-tipped umbrellas, office break-ins, dangles and the like). Those of us who fancy ourselves logical, savvy cyber security specialists can be forgiven for thinking such analog antics wouldn’t persist in a digital world.

And yet, human espionage remains a nagging issue. A Russian spy ring was disrupted in New York in January. New stories about employees stealing trade secrets from their employers regularly make headlines, such as this one in May. More than one article alleges that Vienna and Lausanne (home to recent Iranian nuclear negotiations) are swarming with spies from Tehran. And these are just the stories that get reported.

There is no question that spycraft is changing with the times. Recent, damaging breaches of US government employee information—amply documented elsewhere—provide some interesting hints as to how: Read More »

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Unicorns and Global Digital Disruption: Part II

In my last blog, we talked about the current age of digital disruption and how unicorns are changing the tech landscape.

What Does This Mean For You Though?

As a result, IT and LoBs are under more competitive pressure than ever before. A new wave of disruption faces them – hence, businesses need to react fast, innovate and release. This is where Shadow or Rogue IT comes into place – LoBs want to fail fast, and fail often. You can’t do that if it takes 2-4 weeks for a VM, never mind with access control restraints. At Cisco, our Cloud Consumption Service helps find on average 5-10 times more cloud services than the CIO was aware of. Shadow IT or Rogue IT is just the business trying to react to the market: the path of least resistance wins.

Developers and Decision Makers

Read More »

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22 Tips for New Grads and Others Early-in-Career

As a seasoned professional (read: old guy with scars earned through experience), with a fancy title, working in a cool area, at an extraordinary company, I am asked for career advice by those in the early days of their business journey. Although I’m not really an expert, people figure I might have some insight to offer.

And it’s true, on a certain level. Over the course of decades, mountain climbI’ve done a lot, seen a lot, made plenty of mistakes, fallen into good luck, had several great bosses and a couple of lousy ones. I’ve weathered broad macro storms of economic downturns, flat-out recessions, sudden market transitions, and bursting bubbles.

I’ve also made it through micro disturbances like hostile acquisitions, too many rounds of layoffs and downsizing, and a few instances of company restructuring. I’ve observed and emulated some brilliant people, learned what not to do by watching others, worked with many great do-ers and leaders, led or worked within some impactful teams, and have toiled to make positive and lasting impacts on several great companies. Along the way, in the end, I have experienced a measure of success.

For those just starting your careers as new grads, recent MBA’s, or others in the early season of your professional life, I humbly offer the following collection of thoughts as I reflect back on 30+ years… some of which you might find relevant and valuable.

  • Find a mentor or two – however, choose wisely and be thoughtful where you “hitch your wagon”, preferably to several stars in various areas.
  • Have a mix of patience and impatience — cultivate the desire to go faster and do more, but also recognize that many things have to align in order to make a lasting impact and may take longer as a result.
  • Dig deeper for an understanding – there will be inevitable frustration quote from Michael Jordandue to the frequent disconnect between ‘how things are’ and how you’d like them to be; recognize that the people above and around you are not stupid,  they do things for a reason, understand better by digging deeper
  • Stand out from the crowd – give 10% more than is expected and note that it’s a lot of work to sustain that extra 10% over time. Build it into your own rhythm early, as you will then have a huge advantage in standing out from the crowd as special, committed, willing, and productive.
  • Change roles – move around within the company, horizontally as well as vertically and take a non-linear approach to your career path, especially early. It will provide you the opportunity to gain experience in many different areas as you meet many people in different departments.
  • Look for the “next big thing” — always look for innovative ways to improve projects, processes or what you are working on and help bring it to reality and especially keep an eye out for big shifts ahead.
  • Commit to lifelong learning — read, watch, listen, observe, learn from both the positive and negative, adopt both style and substance from what you see and learn.
  • Disagree and commit – if you don’t agree with an approach or solution, offer alternatives; but once the decision has been made, don’t undermine the work, support it with everything you’ve got.
  • Be nice to others – and learn to work with them. True teamwork and selflessness are rare and people want to work with people they enjoy. And you never know when you will run into these people again – you may need their support or recommendation.
  • Set an example – lead through your behavior; actions speak louder than words; be slow to commit but once you do, then over-deliver.
  • Be an early adopter – take risks and innovate, try new things, don’t cling to the past or old ways of working, push the envelope.
  • Connect and Network – with customers, partners, employees, colleagues, and thought leaders. Continue to grow your network, it will serve you for years and decades.
  • Be accessible – be present, visible, available, engaged. Make your presence known and your impact felt.
  • Be human – be friendly, empathetic and authentic. Expect to have successes and failures, ups and downs, and some spectacular public mistakes. Recognize the humanity in others and cut them a break when they inevitably mess up or disappoint.
  • Share the good work – celebrate the successes of others and you’ll be shared/ referenced by them in return. quote clay shirky 1
  • Be among the first to know – and to dive deeper to understand fully.
  • Build your own personal brand – stand for something.
  • Be influential – tweak and augment other people’s thinking, even by subtle means.
  • Be transparent – and share with others, however don’t have selfish ulterior motives.
  • Advocate an opinion – even if it proves to be wrong. Be in the mix rather than acting as a bystander or spectator.
  • Meet new people – get out of the comfort zone of a small, tight circle.
  • Be interesting – show some personality; quirky is OK (flaky is not), especially if you can deliver excellence with a special unique style all your own.

Bonus: Take More Risks and Have More Fun 

You’re going to spend a LOT of time and energy on your work and career in the years ahead. It’ll be part of what defines you (but it’s not everything that defines you), it’ll present you with opportunities and adventures, friends and connections, a source of pride and accomplishments and the ability to live a terrific life. It’ll also be a source of frustration, long hours, disappointments, surprises, and unforeseen twists and turns. There’s no way to plan it all out in advance, but that’s okay. Take risks, make big bets, try new things.

Approach your career as an adventure and as a journey to be enjoyed, and experience it to the fullest with bold curiosity and fearlessness, with confidence in yourself, and with the expectation that the right things will happen when and how they are meant to unfold.

I wish you a fantastic journey and great success ahead!


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Digital Payments Lack the Framework for Success…And That Needs To Change

Co-authored with Mark Kovarski

In an era of constant technological evolution, our utilization of different technologies, including mobile devices, has had massive impact on the financial services industry. As a result, the industry is facing major disruption as new technology translates into new ways of exchanging value (money). In fact, digital payment concepts are constantly developing, with technology advances changing the payment universe as we know it. Disruptive innovations, such as Apple Pay, continue to gain scaled acceptance globally. Contactless payment solutions could take us a step further towards getting rid of the security and convenience shortfalls of traditional credit and debit cards, but it’s important that a capable, secure network is put in place before digital payments can truly flourish.

The Changing Payments Landscape

The first official currency was introduced in Turkey in 600vBC and, around 1661 AD, coins evolved into bank notes. In 1946, the first credit card was introduced and since the start of this century technology advances have disrupted the world of money more than once. In 1999, European banks started offering mobile banking while in 2008, contactless payment cards were issued in the UK for the first time. Now, driven by mobile and Internet technologies, we are in the early stages of fundamentally changing how we perceive the concept of money. Financial control is no longer only in the hands of the financial industry. Today, entrepreneurial minds are connecting us to our (and others) money in new and innovative ways.

Smartphones and tablets have recently become common devices with 79.4 million U.S. consumers who shop online. According to (source) 51% of U.S. digital buyers are expected to make purchases using a mobile device. New services like Apple Pay and mobile payments (M-payments) are becoming increasingly common in financial services. The questions we must begin to consider are, who will be the key providers in the financial services market in the future and what sort of payment ecosystem will emerge? Read More »

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