Solution Providers for Retail blog: How 7-Eleven Built Its Digital Guest Engagement Program From Scratch

Two years ago, the convenience store chain 7-Eleven had no data warehouse, no smartphone app for its customers, and had a loyalty program that still used paper punch cards. Since then it has built the beginnings of a digital customer engagement program. At the recent Teradata Partners conference in Nashville this week, they described how they did it.

All it took was finding the right VAR and spending some significant cash.

Well, not quite. As you can imagine, there was a lot more involved.

You can read my post for the Solution Providers for Retail blog here.

Ricoh blog: How Apple Pay Will Change Mobile Payments

Apple Pay could revolutionize mobile payments… or fall flat like so many before it.

Announced with the introduction of the iPhone 6, Apple Pay threatens to do what others have not: replace credit cards as a user’s go-to payment method.

Mobile payments have yet to take off in the United States for a variety of reasons. First of all, credit cards simply dominate our notion of how to pay for things. They’re accepted at every online storefront, and mobile credit card readers have made it possible for even the smallest operation to let customers take a swipe (so to speak).

I talk about how Apple Pay will change this landscape in my latest post for Ricoh’s blog here.


SearchSecurity: Multifactor authentication in the enterprise

Older than the Web itself, multifactor authentication is an IT security technology method that requires people to provide multiple forms of identification or information to confirm the legitimacy of their identity for an online transaction or in order to gain access to a corporate application. The goal of multifactor authentication use is to increase the difficulty with which an adversary can exploit the login process to freely roam around personal or corporate networks and compromise computers to steal confidential information, or worse.

This series began in October 2014 and continued over several articles:

And then I have specific reviews of some of the MFA tools:

The trials and tribulations of eCommerce: a look back

I have been a keen observer and sometimes participant of the eCommerce field since its very early days back in the late 1990s. Then the websites were wacky, the software shaky, and the tools touchy and troublesome. But somehow we managed to buy stuff online and Amazon and others have been raking in the dough every since.

In the beginning, IBM had its own NT-based eCommerce product that I reviewed back in 1999 for Windows Sources magazine. These suites of products had a lot of custom configuration, and really weren’t very good. Since that point, IBM has built quite a business around Websphere and other tools. Another article about evaluating payment systems for eCommerce that I wrote for back in 1999 described the sad state of affairs back then.

In those early days, I had fun assignments like trying to figure out how long it took staff from an online storefront to respond to my email queries. That seems fairly obvious, and there are still storefronts that don’t respond quickly enough to their potential customers.

But one area where we have come the furthest has been in online payments. A good example is the recent Apple Pay announcements last month. As the NY Times points out, even though nary a dollar has been spent with this new system, vendors are jumping on board Just Because It Is Apple. Even eBay has gotten so worried that they are in the process of spinning off PayPal, something that they have resisted for years. Here is my analysis of Apple Pay published in Ricoh’s blog.

If you are looking for some historical context of how payments have evolved, check out the following pieces that I wrote over the years:

From that last piece, I wrote:

Imagine how hard life with physical wallets would be if they acted like e-wallets. You would have to carry several different kinds of wallets around with you, since each store would accept different payment systems. You couldn’t convert your dollars from one system to another without a great deal of work. And if you lost your wallet, you would be out of luck.

sim2Today we have a lot of payment choices, including a little-known service from MasterCard called Simplify that is a web payment gateway that offers 2% rates (but only through software, no card reader yet.). We’ll see if my predictions will come true or not once again.

Network World: Slow Internet links got you down? Try Dyn’s Internet Intelligence

dynAs businesses extend their reach to more corners of the world, wouldn’t it be nice if you could monitor any Internet service provider from any location? Thankfully, Dyn, which sells DNS management tools, acquired Renesys earlier this year and extended the features of the Renesys’ Internet Intelligence product.

You can read the full review in Network World here.

Inside the Great Firewall of China

In the past week as massive demonstrations have taken place in Hong Kong we have also learned about how the Great Firewall of China operates. Thanks to a team lead by Harvard social scientist Gary King, it is an impressive collection of both manual and automated processes. The paper was published earlier this year in Science magazine here.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, China for years has been blocking a great deal of Internet traffic based on all sorts of criteria. Many of the world’s more popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are completely unavailable inside the country. Newspapers that are freely read in the rest of the world are also blocked. King’s team conducted the first large-scale study of exactly what was censored and how it was done. They did so by creating thousands of social media accounts and posts and seeing what got blocked and when.

table2And more cleverly, they set up their own websites from within China and then paid to have them censored by the same firms that the government uses. This gave them access to the censor’s tech support lines, so they could engage them in a dialog to understand what was going on and be able to reverse engineer things. “We were even able to get their recommendations on how to conduct censorship on our own site in compliance with government standards,” they wrote.

The study shows exactly how hard it is to censor Internet traffic, especially on the level that is seen in China where a half a billion social media posts are created every day. Automated keyword matching is flawed and requires a great deal of manual intervention. Posts that are critical of the Chinese government are routinely allowed but other posts that involve discussions of collective action (such as the recent Hong Kong demonstrations) are routinely blocked.  Earlier research was less thorough and relied on more anecdotal information, not to mention was riskier since censors weren’t as willing to talk with outsiders about their processes and procedures.

Contrary to what has been written about the Great Firewall, social media site operators actually have a great deal of flexibility in how they function and what they allow online. And while the censors employ a wide variety of automated censorship routines across more than two-thirds of Chinese social media websites, these routines are for the most part ineffective and require thousands of people to monitor and censor the vast collection of content that is posted in China.

censor2The team found that there was little censorship of posts about collective action events which occur outside mainland China, collective action events occurring solely online, social media posts containing critiques of top leaders, and posts about highly sensitive topics (such as Tibet) that do not occur during the actual collective action events themselves. Censors were more focused on the actual events that were taking place themselves and posts that related to organizing these “meetups” and the reactions to them.

A few posts critical of the government were blocked, but not on the level that posts about the actual events were censored. “The censors don’t care about what you say, but about what you do,” said King. You can listen to King being interviewed by Ira Flatow on Science Friday here.