North Face, IBM and Fluid launch shopping experience

20 January 2016 Consultancy.uk

The North Face is working together with Fluid and IBM to provide customers with an interactive shopping experience that helps them hone in on their specific clothing needs based on a series of questions interpreted by IBM Watson’s cognitive computing system. The aim of the new experience is to help customers fulfil their needs more accurately through a personalised feeling interface.

Personalising the shopping experience is becoming an important area of differentiation for companies. While big data analytics provides general background information about customers, having the customer provide their needs, and correctly interpreting those needs into a shopping choice, may be able to improve the shopping experience as well as conversion rates. Recent developments, by IBM among others, in cognitive computing that are ble to fluidly interpret questions and answers are now being leveraged to create new shopping experiences.

The North Face is an iconic brand owned by the VF Corporation. The line, founded in 1966, was designed for outdoor adventurers, and today provides rugged equipment for athletes and armatures to enjoy the great outdoors. Helping customers identify the right equipment for the right environmental context in an online environment has in recent years been a difficulty for specialist provides like the North Face.

North Face, IBM and Fluid launch shopping experience

Fluid was founded in 1999 and designs customers’ shopping experience through digital channels.  The company seeks to provide software solutions that drive conversation, satisfaction and brand loyalty. One of Fluid’s new offerings is the Fluid Expert Personal Shopper (XPS).

This XPS, now offered as a beta to North Face customers, harnesses IBM Watson’s artificially intelligent language processing. North Face customers will be asked questions related to their needs, as well as their requirements. The shopper will then be led to products that meet their needs based on IBM Watson’s cognitive computing’s interpretation of their answers. The difference, according to the companies, is that “Unlike other product recommendation engines, this conversation with the shopper is what enables XPS to refine its recommendations and deliver a more accurate result.”

Example of the shopping experience

“The retail industry, like many others, is awash in structured and unstructured data - from social media to text messages to customer reviews. By tapping into Watson, retailers now have the power to turn this data into meaningful insights that can make the shopping experience more intuitive, informed and enjoyable,” comments Stephen Gold, IBM Watson VP Business Development & Partner Program. “Market leaders like The North Face and Fluid are demonstrating how cognitive technologies can redefine how brands connect and engage customers.”

“Digital retail continues to transform the way we shop, and embedding cognitive technologies is the next major step in engaging customers,” adds Kent Deverell, CEO of Fluid. “By tapping into Watson, XPS aims to provide The North Face shoppers helpful, relevant and intuitive product recommendations. We believe this kind of engaging, personalised interactive experience will become the norm for online shoppers in years to come.”

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How data insights helped Network Rail improve the South-East route

11 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Amey Consulting has leveraged data insights to assist Network Rail with the improvement of its South-Eastern route. Using the Quartz tool, which monitors train movement, Network Rail will now be able to commit to data-enabled interventions to quickly improve underperforming train stations.

With rail services in the UK coming under strain from the demands of modern commuter life, while the infrastructure and service delivery of the nation’s railways has come in for sustained criticism in recent years, a period of regeneration is on the cards at last. Network Rail is the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the railway network in Great Britain, and has subsequently tapped the consulting industry on a regular basis to help find areas of improvement.

The group recently drafted in consultancy BearingPoint to conduct a thorough organisational evaluation and advise Network Rail (High Speed) on attaining a ‘fit for purpose’ organisational standard – for which the consultancy was nominated at the 2019 MCA Awards. Meanwhile, ArupArcadis and Aecom have been contracted to help Colas Rail and Babcock Rail implement a decade-long framework for Network Rail, aimed at supporting the delivery of the next generation of rail systems, with the contracts said to be worth as much as £5 billion

How data insights helped Network Rail improve the South-East route

As Network Rail further aims to improve its performance and customer service offering, another area it has sought help from the consulting sector for is its South-East route. The network of railways connects London with the southern parts of the country, as well as with Europe, making it the busiest in the country, with more than 500 million passenger journeys per year. This crucial expanse of rail was plagued with small minute delays, which were impacting millions of passengers every day, while reducing the efficiency and capacity of the overall network – something Amey Consulting was selected to help solve.

Amey Consulting soon determined that with the sub-threshold delays to services only lasting for 1 or 2 minutes, most were not the subject of detailed root cause analysis, and this made their corrections almost impossible – with dire consequences. Without addressing these delays, passenger satisfaction would fall, while the capacity and efficiency of the network would be reduced, stinging the income of Network Rail even before a host of delay-related fines would hit the company.

In order to help the client gain a better understanding of where, how, when and what these small delays occur, Amey Consulting looked to demonstrate the value of data-led consulting, with a significant reduction in delays within the first month of rolling out changes to key stations. The consultants embedded themselves in Network Rail’s team, helping them learn the key skills needed to support and apply data-driven solutions.

Agile transport

This involved the deployment of the Quartz tool. The system utilises to-the-second train movement data to present the performance of individual stations across the South-East route. It allows users to effortlessly understand station performance with a high level of detail, and use this information to identify losses caused by small-minute delays. The granular data allows for targeted actions to drive efficiency savings and performance improvements. More importantly, it allows users to understand the impact of small process changes on performance. 

Steve Dyke, an Executive Partner at Amey Consulting, said of the project, “We looked to identify the physical root cause on the infrastructure, building a case for change then managing that project implementation and tracking the benefit/value.  In doing so we are working to define a data performance improvement service to the operational and infrastructure owners.”

Just as important for the project as the technology, however, was teaching the Network Rail team how to leverage it after the consultants were gone. The Amey Consulting team worked to develop an agile working culture within Network Rail’s South-East division, helping staff to be confident in using data to improve the journeys of millions of people per year by attacking the problem from the ground up.

Dyke concluded, “This is less about the tools and about the approach to managing performance.  It meant using by-the-second analysis, data science, and then agile development to visualise and identify areas where improvements can be made.  We then worked with NR to change the way they approached the management of the infrastructure changes.  So rather than pass the information down the value chain, any of which could have been missed, we managed the change end-to-end.”

The project was so successful that Amey Consulting was also among those honoured at the recent MCA Awards. The firm scooped the Performance Improvement in the Public Sector prize for its work with Network Rail, at the 2019 ceremony in London.