In this article, we'll discuss how to work from home, how to stay productive and secure, and what tools you might want to consider to do so.
Technology has enabled us to work remotely and we've seen a huge increase of that in the last decade, especially now with COVID-19 forcing businesses into a remote work policy.
Telecommuting offers wonderful benefits to companies and workers alike, with an improved work-life balance topping the charts. People who are working from home are also likely to be more engaged in their jobs, and being engaged can lead to higher profitability, mobile productivity, customer engagement, and other positive business outcomes.
However, remote teams cab experience problems of their own. At the forefront is the disconnection that naturally occurs when team members work separately from the rest of the team. If partially remote, with some workers in the office, remote workers don't get the same experience of office culture. However, with it becoming the 'new norm' many leaders are looking at alternative options to built culture remotely through online games and events, message boards, regularly scheduled video meetings and more.
If you’re new to working remote, here are some things you can do to make your experience as successful as possible:
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate—It’s important to let your team know when you’ll be away from your desk for any extended period of time - whether that means homeschooling your kids, running an errand, or getting in a workout during your lunch. That way, they’ll know when you’ll be back in case they have anything pressing. Teams work better when members know what to expect of each other. If you have a communication software like Teams (or Skype), Slack, or Zoom, maybe sure to use the status setting. You can customize a message such as 'out for lunch' or set your status simply to 'Away' so they know you're not at your desk.
  • Always meet your deadlines—This should go without saying, but it’s important to make sure you aren’t slacking off.  Work-from-home productivity is at least as good as in-office productivity, if not better. Don’t be the one that causes your boss or co-workers to lose faith in the system. If you need help, check out a task planning tool like Microsoft Planner,, or Basecamp. While paper and pen are great, this allows your team to collaborate and track progress
  • Use technology —While email certainly has its place, other technology—such as instant messaging, conferencing, etc.—helps you connect with team members in the moment. Because you don’t have the ability to stop by a co-worker’s desk or see team members at the water cooler, you should take any opportunity you can to create conversations and collaboration when appropriate.
  • Visit the office (if it's safe)—Some remote workers may not live close enough to visit the office, but—depending on your role—regular time spent in the office is crucial to team cohesion. In a pre-COVID world, getting facetime in the office was highly recommended as a way to keep in touch and build relationships. Until it's safe again to do so, establish regular check-ins and video meetings with colleagues.
  • Build relationships with co-workers inside and outside your 'circle'—It's important to schedule regular meetings within leadership and in your department to make sure you're all on the same page and get status updates on projects, goals, and deadlines. It's also important to check in regularly with office friends and colleagues outside of your department
Now that we've covered the basics to being successful when working remote, let's dive into some technology and tools.
  • Audio & Video Conferencing tool: As it's mentioned many times above, it's critical to maintain great communication when working remotely. Utilizing a tool like Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Slack allows for constant and quick communication.
  • Productivity tools: Things like email, word processing, file sharing are essential to keeping business operations running
  • Identity Management & Security: This allows you to see which employees should have access to which files.
  • Mobile management software: You need the ability to push and pull data and information to different devices so your users can be productive.
As a result of COVID-19, many organizations are looking at moving their business to the cloud. What was once a scary and unknown place in technology, businesses are adopting a cloud strategy more than ever before. Watch our video below to see why you should consider the cloud for a remote workforce.
Our CIO Tony Pecora discusses how you can support a remote workforce with a modern workplace - a deeper dive on some of the tools discussed above. Check out the interview below:


Introducing October features for Microsoft Flow

New approval modes
New approval modes
A new approval feature lets users switch approval modes. (i.e. requiring all approvers to agree vs. requiring only one approver when having multiple approvers)
Build richer flows
Build richer flows
New actions available to work with dates and times (i.e. converting time zones). In addition, you are now enabled to leverage nested lists of items and use an “apply to each” action inside of other “apply to each” actions.
Mobile improvements
Mobile improvements
Microsoft Flow buttons’ input types have been extended so that you can collect email addresses and files (i.e. pictures from your camera roll). In addition, single sign-on has been added for Microsoft services so you no longer need to re-enter your password.
More new connectors
More new connectors
New connectors: Content ModeratorCustom VisionDocparserApache ImpalaMicrosoft KaizalaPitney Bowes Data ValidationQnA Maker, and iAuditor.
Also, OneDrive for Business has a new action that lets you generate PDFs from any file!



Built for small to medium sized businesses with up to as many as 300 employees and available worldwide today, Microsoft 365 Business includes the Office 365 suite of productivity and collaboration tools, in addition to device management and security tools to protect company information across Windows 10 PCs, mobile devices, and apps. This integrated solution is designed to simplify IT for small and medium sized businesses.

Also, the general availability of three new business apps—Microsoft Connections, Microsoft Listings, and Microsoft Invoicing—which join Microsoft Bookings, Outlook Customer Manager, and MileIQ to create a suite of capabilities that help small businesses grow and thrive. These apps are now available in Microsoft 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium for customers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

Laslty, Microsoft StaffHub, an app to help Firstline Workers manage their workday, is now included in Microsoft 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium subscriptions.

Become a modern workplace

Today’s modern, global workplace is moving in a new direction, which brings with it major opportunities and challenges for all businesses. Businesses have to meet the needs of a five-generation workforce, deal with an increasingly complex cyber-threat setting, and innovate quick enough to meet evolving customer expectations.

All the while, small and medium sized customers want solutions that are easy to manage and maintain. Often times, small business owners find technology options to be complex and costly, leading many to settle with a patchwork of services or opt out of investments altogether. These approaches compromise business productivity and open the door for security vulnerabilities, which could be a reason why 43 percent of all cyber-attacks last year were targeted at companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Safeguard your business

Microsoft 365 Business is made to provide the productivity tools and security services businesses need in a single, simple-to-manage product. It safeguards company information, extending security across users, apps, and devices. It ensures that PCs are up to date, helping to prevent vulnerabilities in security that cyber-thieves often exploit. In addition, it provides protection for company information across devices, with the capability to delete company data from lost or stolen devices.

Empower your people

Microsoft 365 Business delivers productivity and collaboration tools that businesses need in order to help their employees be the most productive that they can possibly be. It includes the suite of Office 365 productivity and collaboration apps, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as Outlook for email services, SharePoint and OneDrive for sharing files with customers, co-workers, and suppliers, and Microsoft Teams for chat-based teamwork and collaboration.

Simplify your IT management

Microsoft 365 Business is designed to make the management of technology for businesses and their IT partners simpler and less costly. It offers simple setup and management, so business owners and their teams can dedicate higher amounts of their time and energy toward building their businesses as opposed to constantly worrying about logistics. You can set up new employees, configure device security policies, and manage user identity and access, as well as ensure all your people are on the most up-to-date versions of Windows 10 and Office, all from a single console. On top of all of these points, the single per-user, per-month subscription streamlines costs and simplifies management.

Acquire customers and nurture business growth with three new apps

Three new apps are also available with the purpose of helping small businesses gain new customers, increase revenue, and accelerate billing and receivables.

  • Microsoft Connections enables businesses to send marketing emails that showcase their brand and drive sales.
  • Microsoft Listings helps businesses acquire new customers and build their brand by getting their business listed on Facebook, Google, Bing, and Yelp.
  • Microsoft Invoicing provides estimate and invoicing tools that help accelerate payment and manage cash flow.

These new business apps can all be managed centrally from the Business center. They build on top of three apps from Office 365 that are already available:

  • Bookings simplifies the process of scheduling and managing customer appointments.
  • Outlook Customer Manager provides simple customer management for small businesses, right within Outlook.
  • MileIQ offers a smarter way to track mileage, with automatic mileage logging, easy classification as business or personal, and comprehensive reporting.

Give Firstline Workers the tools they need to do their best work with StaffHub

The global workforce in comprised mostly of Firstline Workers; they are the heart and soul of many small and medium sized businesses. StaffHub is an app that is purpose-built to help Firstline Workers manage their workday, allowing business owners and employees to easily create and manage schedules, assign and complete tasks, and communicate with each other.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

"Cami" Boosts Customer Engagement at Dixons Carphone

Dixons Carphone is a major electronics retailer that is based in the UK but employs many people over 11 different countries. Dixons Carphone provides consumers with products and services that help them lead seamlessly connected lives at home, in the office, and on the move. Similar to most retailers, Dixons Carphone has had to adapt to modern consumer buying patterns by incorporating a larger amount of online product research and shopping. In fact, 90% of their customers start their shopping in some way or form online, and an astounding 65% use their phones to assist them while shopping in-store.



Dixons Carphone partnered with Microsoft with aims to find better ways to increase customer engagement as well as ways to better optimize employee time spent with customers, they determined that AI was the answer. Specifically, Dixons Carphone investigated the capabilities of the Microsoft Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services in the context of customer interactions. The Bot Framework helps companies build, test and deploy intelligent bots capable of interacting with customers in a conversational way, working in tandem with Cognitive Services, a collection of intelligent APIs hosted on Azure that provide the underlying language and image recognition capabilities that power the bots.

After contemplating and brainstorming a personality and persona for their bot, Dixons Carphone decided on "Cami" with a mildly geeky and confident personality. Cami, for the time being, accepts questions (as text-based input) as well as pictures of products’ in-store shelf labels to check stock status, using the Cognitive Services Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS) for conversational abilities and the Computer Vision API to process images.

Dixons Carphone will also be putting Cami to use in order to help employees in their day-to-day responsibilities, for example, in doing stock checks. In addition, the research done in conjunction with Microsoft showed that when shopping in store, customers who researched a product online (as far as things like stock level) are frustrated by the fact that when they get into the store they must start from scratch through store employees. Cami helps bridge that gap through a "Wishlist" feature. As customers add items to their Wishlist, Cami saves the search criteria they used and store colleagues can pull up that information in-store to see what the customer was looking for, leading to a much more efficient shopping process.

When Dixons Carphone goes live with the use of Cami, they will use the Cognitive Services Text Analytics APIAzure Application Insights, and Power BI dashboard to review which products customers are looking at, the sentiment of their interactions, and the questions they are asking. Understanding the questions that customers are asking and analyzing their interactions with the bot will help the company improve their communications and messaging as well.

Arvato Bertelsmann Protects Online Merchants from E-Commerce Fraud

An estimated 70 percent of online sellers in Germany have suffered fraud attempts, but only 14 percent of them use any safeguards today. Even though merchants are aware of the dangers of e-commerce fraud and the solutions available to protect themselves, they lack the resources to be able to manage the risk efficiently. On top of this, hackers quickly adapt their fraudulent ways and as a result, whatever solutions are put in place must adapt as well.

Arvato Financial Solutions, an integrated financial services provider, offers vital services around e-commerce safety for some 2,000 odd customers. One of eight divisions of Bertelsmann – the German media, services, and education giant – Arvato has recently partnered with Microsoft, inovex GmbH (a cloud and big data specialist), and a few of Arvato’s e-commerce customers with aims to create a fraud detection solution using Microsoft’s big data and machine learning offerings.

Through the combination of Azure services with the open-source Storm and Hadoop frameworks, Arvato built an integrated cloud-based solution that uses a modern lambda architecture to process massive data quantities using both batch and stream processing. The batch path transforms existing data using Hadoop, then, by applying machine learning algorithms, the solution develops self-learning analytical models from past fraud cases, for early recognition of any new fraudulent approaches. The stream-processing path captures incoming real-time transaction data via Azure Event Hubs. It then analyzes the data with the assistance of Storm and Azure Machine Learning to uncover fraudulent activities as they happen.

An important goal of the project was to visualize and monitor the models, and Power BI serves this function by displaying data sets drawn directly from cloud sources, Azure HDInsight and SQL Database, on several large screens in Arvato’s monitoring center.

Avato’s investment in good cloud design is paying for itself, helping the company reliably fulfill SLAs using cloud services. Their flexible architecture enables rapid deployment, which is key for fraud recognition in an international e-commerce setting. Using Microsoft machine learning on big data, Avato has created an innovative e-commerce fraud recognition solution and built the basis for innovative financial BPO services based on Microsoft Azure.

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NASCAR’s drive to digitally transform helps fuel a new ‘tech age’ across the sports landscape

By Bill Briggs as written on
It’s race day. On the 1.99-mile road course, 38 cars roar in a blazing blur of team colors and engine thunder. Midway through the event, a NASCAR official peers into that speedy swirl to find one specific car due for a pit stop.
“Sounds simple, right? It can take a minute,” said John Probst, NASCAR managing director of competition innovation. “Even five to 10 seconds is a long time in our sport. Every second counts.”
Now, there’s a tool to do that task in true NASCAR style – fast. With the race management app, built by NASCAR and Microsoft on Windows 10, race officials can click on a car number and instantly see that driver’s position on the track – or learn when the car got fresh tires or will next stop for fuel. NASCAR officially launched it Sunday for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
The app, introduced in 2016, includes new components like “freeze the field,” which combines video and positioning that helps NASCAR break down live race video and post-race footage to spot when and exactly where cars were located on the track. Officials also can use the app to see – on a single window – how much time the race has been run under green, yellow and red flags; how many cars are in the garage; and whether pit road penalties occurred.


NASCAR officials use a tablet to keep the race safe. (Photo by Integrated Talent)

NASCAR officials use a tablet to keep the race safe. (Photo by Integrated Talent)

“Running a race requires many people consuming data from many different sources and then coordinating that information into a seamless operation,” Probst said. “Historically, this information and data has been presented in a piecemeal form – little bits of information spread across many monitors or printed on individual sheets of paper.
“With the race management app, we are able to combine all of this information and present it to officials in a logical way. One application, one display,” Probst said.
Within NASCAR, officials are adopting new technologies to make their races fairer and safer – while also leveraging Microsoft tools like SharePoint to move their Super Bowl-sized event from city to city, 38 times a year. And at Hendrick Motorsports, 12-time NASCAR Cup Series champions, engineers are increasingly tapping tech to snip off fractions of seconds from pit stops and lap times.
In fact, decades of innovation within motor sports have helped lead the tech boom now rumbling throughout the larger sports landscape, from soccer to golf to high school football. It is a milestone moment, expert say, as more leagues, teams and competitors apply tools like Azure Machine Learning and Microsoft artificial intelligence solutions to achieve a singular goal: winning.
Intelligent guesses and gut instincts alone don’t cut it any longer on the track or on the field of play. Top performers are capturing and organizing the tremendous reservoir of raw data generated by their races and games – then using tools like predictive analytics to make smarter decisions, said Mike Downey, director of sports technology engineering at Microsoft.

Tech age in sports

“You could describe the current wave of tech transformation as a pivotal moment across all of sports. It’s up there with the Industrial Revolution and the Iron Age,” Downey said. “It’s the tech age in sports. It’s huge, and hugely transformational.”
Microsoft Consulting Services partnered with NASCAR to develop the race management app on Windows 10, with data and video stored in Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. The app combines into one screen six data categories – historical data, timing and scoring, pit road officiating, video replay and car positioning.
From the people who officiate the action on the track to those managing everything from the safety vehicles in the Race Control hub, the app is streamlining operations, said Betsy Grider, managing director of technology development at NASCAR.
“When you have incidents on track or big wrecks, it’s high pressure, high stress,” Grider said. “After safety and medical situations are taken care of, you want to get those cars back to racing as soon as possible. Using a master app that allows you to jump in and out of different functions live, that puts everything (that’s happening) on one single pane of glass, it really helps operationally.”

Policing the pits

NASCAR has also integrated Microsoft Surface Dial into the app. The hardware tool is the size of a hockey puck and works with Microsoft Surface Studio and Surface Pro to activate hidden software features, freeing up hands for other tasks. NASCAR race officials are using Surface Dial in the app’s “infraction video” feature, which captures video to monitor pit stops for violations, said Stephen Byrd, NASCAR director of technology integration and development.
“We can now have multiple officials review and scrutinize these videos, using the Dial to play the clip on a granular level, frame by frame, so they can analyze what happened in real time, literally saving us seconds,” Byrd said. “That’s important because we want to be able to issue a penalty before that car (in violation) makes a full, complete lap. Time is of the essence.”
When the race is done, the work really starts. NASCAR is not a light packer. The entire race event –communication and broadcast hubs, cars, computers and camshafts – gets assembled and hauled in tractor-trailers to the next track in the next city for the next race.


Haulers lined up at Sonoma Raceway carry the cars, parts, tools and NASCAR equipment from city to city. (Photo by Integrated Talent)

Haulers lined up at Sonoma Raceway carry the cars, parts, tools and NASCAR equipment from city to city. (Photo by Integrated Talent)

“Just imagine lifting up three square city blocks of Manhattan and trying to move them around the country. The logistical operation compares to what you might see in the Olympics or the Super Bowl. But we’re doing it every weekend,” Grider said.
To pull all of that together, NASCAR employees stay in communication through Microsoft SharePoint, which offers a secure place to store, share, organize and access information from almost any device. (NASCAR is headquartered in Daytona Beach, Florida.) They also use Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-connected service that includes Exchange Online for email, SharePoint Online for collaboration and a suite of Office Web Apps.

‘The tech is staggering’

For NASCAR’s most decorated team, Hendrick Motorsports, technology fuels how crew chiefs and engineers hammer out race strategy, make decisions about the cars and manage crucial race-day communications.
“The technology in this sport now is staggering,” said Taylor Moyer, a race engineer with Hendrick Motorsports. He’s one of three engineers who work on the No. 5 Chevrolet SS driven by Kasey Kahne.


Hendrick Motorsports engineer Taylor Moyer. (Photo by Integrated Talent).

Hendrick Motorsports engineer Taylor Moyer. (Photo by Integrated Talent)

Three weeks before each race, Moyer and the other engineers begin compiling a large report on the track, the car and other aspects of the looming competition. They upload all their files into Microsoft OneDrive, which allows them to store, share and sync their information to the cloud. Throughout race weekend, as they gather data from Friday practices and Saturday qualifying runs, they continue building that report, Moyer said.
“We live on Microsoft Teams, OneNote and OneDrive. That allows us to have connectivity at all times. It also allows us to have a personal life, which is a huge thing because, even on our days off, we have to be able to communicate with the shop,” Moyer said. “I wake up, have my morning coffee and eggs on the porch, and work on a (race) simulation. I can drop it in OneDrive, it shows up at the shop, and the other engineers have it.
“The whole time we’re at the track, we’re also dumping files in there. And you have that report everywhere – on your phone, on the morning van ride in,” Moyer said. “It allows us to do so much more with the time we have. The only thing you can’t get more of is time.”
Then there’s the race-planning info he shares with Kahne, who carries a Microsoft Surface tablet equipped with OneDrive.
“Drivers get pulled everywhere for different obligations, but all that time he and I are in constant communication,” Moyer said. “When I’m done with my work – race prep for him – I’ll drop it in his OneDrive file. He can be sitting at home with Tanner, his son. When Tanner goes to bed, he can just open it up and there’s my work. It’s so easy.”
The files they share touch on strategy for the upcoming race. They also include data from previous races Kahne ran at that track – or races run there by the other three Hendrick Motorsports drivers: Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott. Items they discuss may include lap times, speed, tire pressures and temperatures, wear on the vehicle, plus previous driver comments on steering, throttle and braking.
After Kahne reads and assesses that info, he often chats with Moyer via the flexible, chat-based workspaces within Microsoft Teams.


NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Integrated Talent)

NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Integrated Talent)

“Taylor really feeds me a majority of the information that I’m looking for each week – our plan and how we can best attack the race weekend,” Kahne said. “We’re looking back at prior races at that track, what we did to the car to make it go fast and how to use some of those items again.
“It really gives me a head start going into a race weekend. Then, I can keep track of it all weekend long (via OneDrive) and know exactly what the guys are doing to be prepared and set for the race on Sunday.”
On race day, Moyer sits atop the pit box and uses Teams as a digital communications hub amid the roaring engines and frantic competition. For example, as Kahne is driving down pit road, Moyer and the team’s fueler have a quick fueling decision to make—one that could win the race. On their screens, they read fuel consumption data and chat about the fuel’s weight, its volume and the car’s speed – a precise relationship. When Kahne stops his No. 5 car, the fueler pumps in a precise amount of fuel and Kahne is quickly back on the track.
But in that frantic moment, the technology shaved precious seconds off the decision and the pit stop.
“If I can get the data out of the race car faster, I can make a decision faster,” Moyer said. “I absolutely wouldn’t be able to do my job without these tools.”


mixed-reality-for-farming-managed-solutionHow mixed reality and machine learning are driving innovation in farming

By Jeff Kavanaugh as written on
Farming is, by far, the most mature industry mankind has created. Dating back to the dawn of civilization, farming has been refined, adjusted and adapted — but never perfected. We, as a society, always worry over the future of farming. Today, we even apply terms usually reserved for the tech sector — digital, IoT, AI and so on. So why are we worrying?
The Economist, in its Q2 Technology Quarterly issue, proclaims agriculture will soon need to become more manufacturing-like in order to feed the world’s growing population. Scientific American reports crops will soon need to become more drought resistant in order to effectively grow in uncertain climates. Farms, The New York Times writes, will soon need to learn how to harvest more with less water.
And they’re right. If farms are to continue to feed the world’s population they will have to do so in manners both independent of, and accommodating to, the planet’s changing and highly variable climes. That necessitates the smart application of both proven and cutting-edge technology. It necessitates simplified interfaces. And, of course, it necessitates building out and applying those skills today.
Fortunately, the basics for this future are being explored today. For example, vertical farming, a technique allowing farmers to grow and harvest crops in controlled environments, often indoors and in vertical stacks, has exploded in both popularity and potential. In fact, this method has been shown to grow some crops 20 percent faster with 91 percent less water. Genetically modified seeds, capable of withstanding droughts and floods, are making harvests possible even in the driest of conditions, like those found in Kenya.

If farms are to continue to feed the world’s population they will have to do so in manners both independent of, and accommodating to, the planet’s changing and highly variable climes.

But managing such progress, whether indoors or in the field, is a challenge unto itself. Monitoring acidity, soil nutrients and watering time for each plant for optimal growth is, at best, guesswork or, at worst, an afterthought. But it’s here new interactive technologies may shine. A small family of sensors can monitor a plant’s vitals and provide real-time updates to a remote server. Artificial intelligence’s younger cousin, machine learning, can study these vitals and the growth of some crops to anticipate future needs. Finally, augmented reality (AR), where informative images overlay or augment everyday objects, can help both farmers and gardeners to monitor and manage crop health.
Plant.IO* is one system that shows how it can be done: A cube of PVC pipes provides the frame for sensors, grow-lights, cameras and more. A remote server dedicated to machine learning analyzes growth and growth conditions and anticipates future plant needs. A set of AR-capable glasses provides to the user an image, or a representation, of the plant, regardless of location. If the AR device is capable, like the Microsoft HoloLens, it also can provide a means to interact with the plant by adjusting fertilizer, water flow, growth lights and more.
This methodology, when paired with gamification, may lend itself to a new, simplified form of crop management. Together, AI and AR make it simple and fun for everyone from adults to adolescents to monitor and manage their own gardens from home and afar. This idea is at the heart of Plant.IO: a fun, workable solution for an agriculture-based scenario where digital information can overlay a physical object or area without losing context.
In fact, this sort of management system could extend beyond gardens and farms. Any scenario where a physical environment exists alongside measurable data could, potentially, benefit from an AR/AI deployment. Industrial operations, such as warehouse management, are a promising area. Industrial farming, where the combination of AI and infrared cameras to measure a field’s health, is another.
With the right formula of AR and AI, users can monitor and nurture plants from virtually anywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter if they’re growing plants on their kitchen counter, or preparing for their next harvest. Better yet, they can do this with the latest information on a plant’s acidity, nutrient, watering levels and more in an environmentally sound manner.
The first industrial revolution helped us go from the fields to the cities with the productivity gains from machine farming. This industrial revolution is using machine learning and other digital “implements” to take farming even further — and to feed the world.
*Disclosure: Plant.IO is an open-source digital farming project created by Infosys.


Asia’s Mobile-First Economy and How the West is Feeling the Effects

By Matthew Dibb as written on
Asia Pacific leads the global digital infrastructure as home to half of the world’s mobile phone subscribers and the largest number of wireless Internet connections. However, the region also has historically attracted less than one-third of global mobile marketing spend — making its role in the digital economy largely underrepresented amongst its Western counterparts.
The potential for that role to change was galvanized by a late-2014 Google survey, which highlighted that mobile penetration in Asia was far greater than any other region in the world, even surpassing computer use, thus ushering in Asia’s “mobile-first” consumer.
As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the smartphone era, are there further lessons to be gleaned from Asia’s mobile-first economy?

East versus West

he mobile-first consumer has fueled double-digit annual sales growth over the past five years for Asia Pacific tech companies — twice the pace of traditional retailers in the region. Although the growth trajectory is similar to the North American experience, differences in underlying drivers have the potential to elevate Asia Pacific’s sphere of influence in the digital economy.
While North American technology players have traditionally relied heavily on advertising, the Asian tech scene is more diverse. The West’s largest online companies — Alphabet and Facebook — generate more than 90 percent of their revenue via advertising. By comparison, Asia’s largest player, Alibaba Group, doesn’t even operate on an advertising model, and the region’s next largest incumbent, Tencent Holdings, relies on advertising for less than 20 percent of its income.
As a result, popular consumer mobile apps in the region, such as WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk, are synonymous with multipurpose functionality, incorporating e-commerce, payments processing, games and other digital goods and services. Their success has been a recent source of inspiration among Western counterparts, with Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all launching actionable “buy it” buttons in their platforms during 2015.


“Value adding” not expanding

Are these initiatives set to open new rivers of gold for the West’s social media incumbents? To date, the West’s foray into social commerce remains in the experimental phases. To soften investor curiosity, industry leader Facebook has promoted its new functionality as a mechanism to enhance the value of existing advertising services rather than as an independent monetization strategy.
While Facebook and Alphabet command half of all mobile advertising dollars, the pursuit of alternative revenue strategies may remain a covert affair.
The region’s two most active private equity houses — Sequoia and Tiger Global — have together during the last six months helped anchor for local tech startups funding rounds nearing $2 billion. If their portfolio allocations are a proxy for near-term trends in the region, enterprise software, agency and financial services are set to become a greater part of the East’s mobile commerce mix.

Future forces in Asia’s tech economy

Accounting for 40 percent of recent deals in the region, on-demand services are driving a boom in agency funding. Also referred to as online to offline (O2O) businesses, the likes of Uber and Airbnb have pioneered this model in the West. However, in a hallmark characteristic of the East, local incarnations are not just relying on the pure agency model to drive revenue.
Indian car hire provider Ola marked the region’s most significant agency deal over the past six months with a $500 million funding round in September from a consortium that included Tiger Global. Proceeds are helping the company broaden its horizons with the launch in November of a new payments service, Ola Money.
A reverse situation appears to be transpiring at Practo Technologies. After operating an enterprise management platform for doctors and medical clinics since 2008, the business now has an ancillary opportunity on the consumer side to facilitate on-demand medical bookings and advice. Practo attracted $90 million in August from a consortium that included Sequoia, Tencent Holdings and, interestingly, Google Capital.


Jack of all trades or master of none?

Practo Technologies represents the largest Asia Pacific tech deal in which Google has participated (to date). It also is the largest deal involving Google outside the U.S. and U.K. As smartphones approach their 10-year anniversary, could this be a sign of even larger deals ahead?
Horizontal integration is poised to become a critical theme in the West as the value of North American tech IPOs reached a three-year low during Q1 2016. As competition for funding and users ultimately tighten, one-dimensional consumer applications that are characteristic of the West may pave the way to multiple functionalities in the pursuit of additional revenue.
The “buy it” buttons experiments embarked on by Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook during 2015 have yet to reach a verdict. The risk facing multi-revenue pursuits is a complication of the user experience. However, could hesitations from consumers to utilize the multiple functionalities, e.g. “buy it” buttons, create opportunity for more nimble, focused players?
Such players to enter the space, specifically in the Asia Pacific region, include on-demand services and e-commerce startups, including ServisHero, which has three locations in South East Asia and RedMart in Singapore.
These startups are shaping revenue pursuits based on a deep understanding of the audience, catering to localized consumer services. While we are seeing startups engineer products around defined markets, it’s still a nascent trend in the West for consumers to engage in multi-dimensional platforms. However, as opportunity beckons for masters of their audience, this new wave of engineering could provide a natural stepping stone for consumer apps in North America.



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