How the Digital Experience is Transforming Museums

How the Digital Experience is Transforming Museums

Museums are now using digital technology to understand and build better customer experiences to help curate and customize a specific journey for each individual during their visit, while enhancing the institution’s relationship with each individual user.

Since as early as the sixth-century BC, museums and their curators have been careful keepers of culture. They have provided a sanctuary and destination for the general public to experience art, history and science that aren’t accessible anywhere else. In the digital age, however, where every fact or research report and every image of the world’s greatest works of art can be instantly accessed on the web, what is the role of museums?

RE-EXAMINING THE ROLE OF MUSEUMS IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Just as libraries have been transformed through electronic media, museums are having to re-examine their mission in light of new technological possibilities and figure out how digital connections can further that mission. To remain sustainable into the future, museums have to be freshly relevant and engaging to every new generation.

Additionally, with today’s digital tools available in everyone’s pocket, every person is an artist. This means that infinite quantities of content are simultaneously competing for our attention on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and so forth. Given this saturation in the market, how do museums successfully capture the attention of their audience? Many cultural institutions are looking to digital for the answer. In a recent research report by Museums and the Web and Axiell, 60 percent of museums report that they are creating a digital strategy to attract and keep their users. Furthermore, these strategies are bearing fruit, as 50 percent of museums have seen their website traffic increase and 82 percent are seeing greater numbers of users engage with them on social media channels.

IT’S ALL ABOUT EXPERIENCE

The value of museums will always center on direct experience. Being up close and personal with artifacts you can look at, and in some cases touch, is a distinctly different and more powerful experience than viewing content online. No amount of digital technology is ever going to replace real life. It makes sense, therefore, that as museums define their strategy for digital transformation, they are focusing on ways of using technology to enhance the experiential aspects of visiting the museum. The museums and the Web survey found that 50 percent of the institutions that responded are prioritizing ways to enhance the visitor experience using mobile apps, 30 percent had digitized at least one-fifth of their collections and 86 percent are prioritizing creation of new educational opportunities.

THE BYOD REVOLUTION

Much of today’s digital enhancement of customer experience is based on an understanding that people almost universally bring their own devices (BYOD) everywhere they go. Where museum-goers once only pulled out their phones to take photos or communicate with friends, personal devices are now recognized by museums as being key portals through which to reach out to and connect with visitors. Based largely on the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, museums are now using digital tools to create an omnichannel customer experience. This experience is made up of interactions in four categories: Personalized Experiences, Directed Experiences, Educational Experiences and Ongoing Experiences. Here’s an overview of each of these channels and of the way in which digital is deepening and intensifying them:

PERSONALIZED EXPERIENCES

Museums are using digital technology to understand user preferences and help curate and customize a specific journey for each individual during their visit. This interactive dialog with visitors is particularly valuable in museums with collections so vast that they can’t be covered in one day. Extensive collections can feel overwhelming, and visitors will feel happier (and thus more likely to offer financial support) if they can select the exhibits that mean the most to them personally. These personalized apps also make use of Bluetooth beacon technology to answer immediate visitor questions such as the location of the nearest restroom or cafe.

  • New York’s American Museum of Natural History offers the Explorer App (one of their nine apps), which asks visitors to select their interests and then recommends the most appropriate path to take through the museum. This app includes various other functions, including augmented reality experiences, social media sharing and the ability to buy tickets without standing in line.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art has exceeded expectations for customer experience by offering an app that the NY Times calls “beautifully designed” and “a rich, accessible experience on its own, primarily because of original content and a pleasingly cheeky tone.” This app proves that a well-executed digital tool can extend and add to a brand’s reputation. The Met spent one full year developing its app, according to the museum’s Chief Digital Officer, Sree Sreenivasan, “to be simple, useful and delightful.”

DIRECTED EXPERIENCES

Once visitors decide what to see, the next big challenge is to find it, which can be particularly tricky in the crowded acreage that make up some of the world’s most important museums. Museums are using mobile and Bluetooth beacon technology to help visitors find their way in between exhibits (wayfinding), recommending where to go next depending on visitor preference and even unlocking special content depending on the user’s location.

  • The Brooklyn Museum in NYC has rolled out an interactive app entitled “Ask.” This enables users to send their questions to a team of historians and curators, who answer in real time, providing background as well as recommendations for what to see next. The app relies on beacon technology that tells where in the museum the visitor is when they’re asking their question.
  • The National Slate Museum in Wales was the first national museum anywhere in the world to use iBeacon technology to provide interactive maps as well as curated multimedia content and activities.
  • The Philips Museum uses the location technology in the architecture of its interactive family game, Mission Eureka.

EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES

Augmented Reality powered by mobile devices adds an additional layer of engagement onto museum exhibits.

  • The American Museum of Natural History Explorer App has two AR experiences: “Be the Bear” and “Dino Detective,” which enrich existing exhibits with beautiful educational animations offering a quest-like storyline for visitors. The museum’s eight other apps offer multimedia content focused on specific exhibits, including a family AR game on micro-organisms featuring nine “Micro-crises” that players must resolve.
  • Google’s Arts & Culture App partners with over 1,100 institutions to provide a rich educational experience. A virtual reality tour lets visitors move around remotely in a museum, while an audio tour talks about what they’re “seeing.” However, the goal is to get the user physically into the museum in real life, at which point the “Art Recognizer” portion of the app comes into play. This provides an experience that’s similar to a traditional audio tour, but without any need to input keypad codes. Instead, the app simply recognizes what the phone’s camera is pointed at, and automatically provides video and audio background information.
  • The multimedia guide for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts works similarly on open-source TAP architecture.

ONGOING EXPERIENCES

Museums rely on donations, so they want to enrich visitors’ experiences and keep them coming back for more. When exhibit content comes alive, even outside the museum, then the excitement and curiosity of the audience connect them to the museum. Making large portions of museum collections available online has increasingly become a way that museums claim their place among the world’s storehouse of culture. It also happens to be a way that Google chose to showcase its platform’s capability with the Google Art Project in 2011.

  • The Louvre is an example of an institution’s beneficial partnership with a private app developer. While the Louvre’s official app is a work in progress, the Louvre HD app developed by Evolution has won widespread praise for its virtual tours and HD zoomable images of over 2000 paintings. The app also provides users with the ability to download images for offline viewing and to search by various criteria.
  • The Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) offers a similar experience, encouraging their visitors to download their app prior to their arrival at the museum. The app includes the ability to purchase reproductions of the artwork, and it also offers a Family Quest virtual game along with numerous other features.

VIRTUAL REALITY

New virtual reality tools and partnerships are proliferating, as the digital world continues its leap out from computers and smartphones into the 3D real world. One VR tool that’s just at the beginning of its life is Google Cardboard, which offers inexpensive and DIY headsets that work with various apps to deliver an immersive VR experience.

It requires skill and judgment to provide a digital user experience that encourages more visitors to come through the door of a museum. No matter how immersive and real a virtual exploration may be, museums exist to preserve and display the physical objects that make up our cultural heritage. For a museum, going digital must transform and enhance the institution’s relationship with each individual user so that each successive generations finds fresh excitement in the irreplaceable treasures of the past.

(Originally published on the Centric Digital blog // October 11, 2016)

Transforming Digital at Nespresso

Transforming Digital at Nespresso

As Nespresso continues to grow, there’s a lot to be learned from the progress this brand has made on the road to digital transformation

Nespresso created a truly transformative experience for its customers in recent years. Overall, they’ve enabled simple digital transactions, drove personalization and customization across channels, leveraged digital media to craft and deliver a compelling brand, and blended digital and physical for a meaningful omni channel experience.

NESPRESSO—WHAT ELSE?

First and foremost, Nespresso is a coffee experience, not a coffee product. In stark contrast to the grab-and-go culture of Dunkin’ Donuts and the creative coffee lounge Starbucks fashions itself to be, Nespresso is meant to be enjoyed slowly and luxuriously in the comfort of your own home. It’s not about the machines, the capsules, or the accessories and cups (though those are a big part of it); it’s about the moment of enjoying your coffee.

Everything about the brand—from the wide range of colors and types of machines to the dozens of flavors of coffee to the various designs of mugs, cups, and saucers available—is aimed at enabling a personalized coffee experience that is unique to each person enjoying it. Founded in 1986, Nespresso is now present in 64 countries and this brand claimed annual revenue of 4 billion Swiss francs in 2014. The brand itself also has over 5 million Facebook fans, and 340,000 unique customers that visit the online boutique every day.

To this end, Nespresso makes it extremely easy to get its coffee to your home with a seamlessly designed e-commerce experience that mirrors some of the best retail experiences in any vertical. With only a few taps on the web or in Nespresso’s mobile app, users (or “Club Members” as the brand refers to its most loyal customers, thus reinforcing its luxury status) can order any combination of capsules that will be delivered anywhere in the U.S. in just two days. Nespresso retains your order history and makes it extremely simple to order again.

USING DATA TO PERSONALIZE THE EXPERIENCE

This simple reorder is just the beginning of Nespresso’s shrewd data strategy that enables user personalization and customization across all Nespresso channels. The company also leverages a cloud-based customer engagement solution that synthesizes all customer data—web and app orders, in-store orders, behavioral analytics, and interactions with Nespresso kiosks—into one unified customer view. This customer view empowers the brand to make recommendations for cross-sell and up-sell (which types of coffee or which new machines you might like) as well as targeted media and events recommendations that tap into what will appeal the most to each user. Not only is this personalization a shrewd growth strategy, but it also adds to the value that each customer account “remembers” your orders and helps you create a Nespresso experience that is uniquely tailored to your style.

LEVERAGING DIGITAL CHANNELS

Nespresso leverages its digital channels not only to enable seamless transactions, but to also distribute content that further reinforces its brand. This is not just done through traditional ad units or video content (although anyone who has seen the George Clooney video knows that traditional ads can also reinforce the premium brand status). Nespresso also provides a digital magazine with lifestyle content and sponsorships, like sailing, that fit the luxury profile.

PROVING SEAMLESS OMNI CHANNEL TRANSACTIONS

The strength of this brand’s transformative experience is that it’s not limited to its digital touchpoints. Nespresso’s experience design extends beyond its app and website to a seamless in-store experience. Labeled as “boutiques” to further the brand value proposition, Nespresso’s physical locations are artfully designed with luxurious leather, wood, and glass. They feature elegant tasting counters where shoppers can sample any type of capsule, sipping it on their own time as they shop. At checkout, club members can swipe a leather keychain, instead of a credit card, to process their saved payment information. Visiting a Nespresso boutique strengthens brand loyalty by serving as a complement to the brand’s digital presence, augmenting the value, luxury, and personalization that define it.

The fact that this brand knows its target customers inside and out, and knows how to cater to them in uniquely personal ways using a strong digital strategy is what helps them stay a “cup above” the rest. While the competition continues to heat up in this market, Nespresso is continuing to grow and expand, specifically in the North American market. By building upon their already solid digital foundation, we can only expect this type of growth to continue.

(Originally Published on the Centric Digital Blog // June 13, 2016)

How Consultants are Adapting to Help Clients Succeed

How Consultants are Adapting to Help Clients Succeed

As Fortune 500 companies across industries face current or looming disruption, consulting firms must adapt to help their clients succeed.

To understand disruption in the consulting and services industry, one first needs to consider some broader scale changes. 50 years ago, the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company was about 60 years. In 2010, this lifespan decreased to 18 years. Some other estimates say that by 2020, three quarters of today’s Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist.

Influencing factors include access to technology, increasing customer expectations (driven by native digital experiences customers encounter every day) and a spike in competition from digital native companies that move swiftly to meet customer needs. Many companies today that are looking to consulting firms are approaching the challenge from a different angle: understanding the customer’s’ digital journey, and promoting a culture of innovation in order to survive in the constantly changing business world.

As a result, the focus of the consulting engagements is shifting. Companies who succeed are no longer IT-centric; they’re customer centric. Consulting companies who are disrupting the industry are scoping engagements such as the synthesis of business objectives, user needs, design, and technology—a marriage of the rapid, creative innovation seen in Silicon Valley startups with the rigorous analytical and strategic frameworks of traditional consulting.

FOCUSING ON THE USER

Disruptive consulting companies follow the process of understanding the “user,” whether that’s an individual customer or an employee using an internal product or platform. They help companies develop personas, lead with user motivations and needs, create customer journeys, and find ways to optimize and simplify their journeys with digital technology. Disruptive consulting companies don’t look just look to the touch points they control, but strive to understand how their relationship with customers fits into the hundreds of other interactions and thoughts the customer will have on any given day.

WHERE INNOVATION MEETS TRADITIONAL BUSINESS

Disruptive consultants also understand how their Fortune 500 clients differ from startups that might be addressing the same customer journey. Acknowledging that longstanding companies will have legacy systems, potentially complex operational workflows, and large teams with distributed subject matter expertise — disruptive consulting companies pair user-centric front-end innovation with backend expertise and the ability to simplify workflows and synthesize data structures and systems.

DESIGNING AGILE NEW PROCESSES

Disruptive consultants respond to the unique needs and attributes of Fortune 500 companies by designing new processes meant to capture the innovation and customer centricity of design thinking, the interactive agility of agile design and development, and make it accessible for large companies with distributed subject matter expertise. Examples of this process include rapid prototyping, digital co-creation, and even overnight hackathons. These methods enable traditional companies to imagine, test, evolve and socialize concepts—allowing them to move rapidly from ideas on a whiteboard, to funding, design, development, and going live in the market.

The structure of these consulting engagements is evolving to match the accelerated innovation of startups as well. Companies disrupting consulting are eschewing standard long-form engagements with smaller agile ones. These engagements are focused on results and iteratively achieving incremental success that culminates in products, programs, and strategies that will have a major impact on the client’s business.

PROVIDING CROSS-INDUSTRY SKILLS

Another attribute of companies disrupting consulting is a cross-industry “innovation best practices” approach. In traditional consulting, an industry-specific approach or subject matter expertise was applied to each engagement. However, new advances in technology and user experience design have made it clear that certain effective models can be replicated, regardless of industry, to drive meaningful user experiences and positive business outcomes. The result is that disruptive consultant companies are no longer just an expert in any one field or industry, but they are constantly attuned to successful business models and user experiences and technology implementations across industries, ready to re-apply them for clients in unexpected ways.

Synthesizing all of this, consultants have re-imagined their processes, teams, structures, and output to be in line with the latest challenges faced by Fortune 500 clients. Following their own design-thinking approach, these disruptive consultants will continue to evolve by listening to and understanding the needs of their users (clients across industries) and deliberately designing consulting engagements and experiences that meet these needs.

(Originally Published on the Centric Digital blog // June 6, 2016)

Healthcare IOT Will Drive Behavior Change and Cost Savings

Healthcare IOT Will Drive Behavior Change and Cost Savings

Digitally connected devices are getting a lot of attention in the medical and healthcare community.

In a report published last year, analysts at Goldman Sachs predicted that devices connected digitally to form the Internet of Things (IoT), could lead to $300 billion in savings for the healthcare industry.

The report predicts the savings will be driven by opportunities for remote patient monitoring and telemedicine that will reduce the amount of treatment needed while still improving patient health outcomes.

With visions of glucose-sensing contact lenses, pill cameras, and stickers that check your vital signs, the buzz surrounding Healthcare IoT is understandable. However, to focus on devices alone is to miss the point. The technology is undoubtedly amazing, but the digital healthcare revolution won’t be driven by devices; it will be driven by people.

Changing human behavior will be the beating heart of the revolution. For patients, care providers, and loved ones, Healthcare IoT will be a catalyst for clearer understanding, streamlined communication, and increased efficiency.

CARE PROVIDERS

Healthcare IoT won’t fundamentally change providers’ approach to patient care, but it will bolster this approach with meaningful new data. Fitness trackers like Fitbit, Jawbone, and the Apple Watch are just the beginning. As Healthcare IoT evolves,connected devices will continuously track patient vitals, diet, stress levels, and more, instantly sharing this data with care providers.

This data will fill in the gaps for health information that providers can’t currently detect or that falls through the cracks of patient self-reporting. With a complete picture of patient health, care providers can more effectively advise on treatment and prevention. This enhanced expertise will be a driving force in the projected $300 billion industry savings.

Furthermore, with the rise of Healthcare IoT, industry operations will be streamlined so that care providers can focus more on patient care and less on administrative tasks. With connected devices automatically tracking and storing patient data, providers will spend less time on assessment and administrative paperwork and more time understanding and treating patients.

And if telemedicine and data-driven preventive techniques indeed increase with Healthcare IoT, providers will see fewer total patients daily and therefore will have more time to care for the ones they do.

PATIENTS

The rise of Healthcare IoT will insert helpful devices seamlessly into patients’ lives, inspiring new behaviors that will improve patient health and reduce industry costs. Telemedicine and connected devices will empower patients to communicate with their care providers at any time, removing big hurdles that keep people from receiving care like the time needed to visit a doctor or the difficulty of explaining a symptom. (Now, just share data from device or snap a picture!)

As Healthcare IoT makes it easier for patients to receive care, patients will be more likely to do so, thus reducing the overall number of patients who delay seeking care until care is extremely expensive and lowering industry treatment costs.

In a more subtle psychological benefit, Healthcare IoT will also contribute to improved patient health outcomes by making patients aware of their own health. Before the digital healthcare revolution, the average person had minimal insight into her own health. Now that patients can track their fitness, health, and vitals through connected devices, they’ll be more aware of their own health on a daily basis, and this awareness will—consciously or subconsciously—drive healthier habits.

LOVED ONES

Patient health outcomes aren’t just driven by patients and their care providers. When they’re not with their doctors, patients are greatly influenced by the support communities that make up their day-to-day lives. These family members, friends, and neighbors can often be the driving factor behind patient success or failure at diet, exercise, or medication programs required for optimal health.

As patients themselves have greater access and understanding of health data, so too will these support communities, and in turn they’ll be better able to support patient health. Healthcare IoT also creates opportunities for shared group incentives, like fitness leaderboards that compare members activity each week, that can give communities incentives to stay healthy together.

Examining how Healthcare IoT will impact health awareness and behavior for patients, care providers, and loved ones, it’s clear that the digital healthcare revolution will be sparked by connected devices, but will, ultimately, be driven by people.

(Originally Published on the Centric Digital blog // March 28, 2016)

How User-Centered Design Helps Patients Stay Healthy

How User-Centered Design Helps Patients Stay Healthy

Too often, patients leave their doctors’ offices and are on their own. Armed with a plan from their doctor, they take care of themselves as best they can amidst daily distractions like work, errands, and commuting. They lean on family members, nutritionists, or fitness coaches, but these people aren’t always around. When they return to their doctors, they take their best guess about how well they did, and doctors send them back into the world until the next check in.

Understandably, it’s difficult for patients to perfectly follow their treatment plans; factors like business, confusion, or isolation can severely impact adherence. But the disconnect between doctors’ offices and patients’ everyday lives can have serious consequences. At a 2013 conference orchestrated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speakers reported that every year, medical non-adherence causes 125,000 deaths and costs the healthcare industry over $100 billion.

To address this problem, a new class of digital healthcare products is bridging the gap between doctors and patients. These products are always on, working to capture and analyze patient data and facilitate seamless communication with care professionals during life’s busy moments when patients are on their own.

But it’s not enough to put these products in patients’ hands. To truly impact health outcomes, these products need to change patient behavior. It comes down to a design challenge: why aren’t people adhering to treatment plans, and how can we use digital technology to remove these barriers and create new incentive structures?

Products that succeed focus on three design attributes: simplicity, personalization, and rewards.

Social psychology BJ Fogg outlined six elements of simplicity that determine whether or not someone completes a given behavior: time (how long does the behavior take?), effort (how difficult is it?), cost (how expensive is it?), habit (how far is it from my normal routine?), cognitive burden (how much mental strain does it require?) and social deviance (how socially acceptable is it?). Products focused on simplicity reduce friction from these factors to make it easier for patients to complete treatment plans, increasing the likelihood they’ll follow through.

The aptly-named AdhereTech is a connected pill bottle that tracks how patients take medication. AdhereTech works because it’s extremely simple; it requires no new patient behavior. Patients open and close AdhereTech exactly as they would a regular pill bottle, but each time they do, data is shared wirelessly with their doctors. Both doctors and patients stay informed, and AdhereTech reminds patients when they forget their medication, increasing adherence. Another product, OhMD, reduces friction around doctor-patient communications between appointments to ensure patients get answers when they’re confused about treatment. Instead of interrupting a busy day to call their doctors, patients use OhMD to text doctors the same way they’d text friends, making it more likely they’ll reach out. OhMD is simple for doctors, too; messages from patients are received and archived directly in the patient portals they’re already using.

Products that successfully drive medical adherence don’t just track patient data; they use it to personalize patient experiences. By better understanding patients, doctors can recommend more effective treatment and help patients fit that treatment seamlessly into their lives.

Chrono Therapeutics helps people quit smoking by identifying their personal cravings cycle (the contextual triggers or times of day when they most crave a cigarette) and coaching them through these high-risk times. As part of the company’s Chrono Solution program, smokers wear a connected device that delivers nicotine replacement medication at optimal times to reduce cravings and withdrawal. Through a mobile app, patients can review data from their device and receive support when they need it most. GlucoIQ takes a similar approach to improving outcomes for patients with diabetes. Patients wear a connected glucose monitor that continuously analyzes glucose trends. If readings are trending abnormally, GlucoIQ notifies the patient’s doctor so she can proactively reach out to adjust treatment or provide support.

Though being healthy is its own reward, sometimes the end effects of treatment seem so far off that patients lose sight of them. To keep patients motivated, some digital products incorporate short-term rewards that boost patient morale and create a sense of achievement, in turn increasing medical adherence.

The Mango Health app gamifies patients’ treatment plans by attributing points to important actions like taking medication, drinking water, and exercising. When they earn enough points, patients can “cash out” for gift cards to major retailers like Target or Starbucks. These periodic rewards help patients celebrate small successes and motivate them to stay on track and earn another gift card. Monetary rewards can be effective, but Omada Health focuses on a different type of reward. The company’s 16-week chronic disease prevention program pairs patients with an online “team” of other patients completing the same program. As patients complete the program, they can support each other with congratulations and words of encouragement, the same kinds of social rewards that motivate people to post to Facebook or Instagram.

Together, this new class of digital healthcare products is increasing medical adherence and improving health outcomes through user-centered design. But this approach isn’t restricted to healthcare. Companies in any industry can increase success by making key actions easier for customers to complete. By understanding customers needs, motivations, and fears, companies can leverage social psychology principles to help customers overcome barriers to actions. By building products centered on simplicity, personalization, and rewards, any company can improve customer experiences and transform business as usual.

(Originally Published on the Centric Digital blog // January 21, 2016)

The Public Money and Private Tech Behind Connected Cities

The Public Money and Private Tech Behind Connected Cities

 

A few weeks after moving to New York City, I watched a friend pick up her buzzing cell phone, screen the caller, and put the phone back down. “I’ll just tell him I was on the subway,” she told me.

The moment stuck with me as one of those "New York rules": an idiosyncratic behavior that manifests from the unique, complicated infrastructure New Yorkers navigate every day. I too have used the subway-excuse.

But now, some of those rules are changing. With the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) celebrating the connection of its 100th Wi-Fi enabled station earlier this year, more commuters are enjoying wireless in the New York underground and the subway-excuse is becoming less and less plausible.

There are changes going on above-ground too. Google recently announced a partnership with city-run innovation group LinkNYC that will blanket the streets of New York with free public WiFi. And the trend extends beyond New York. From Tel Aviv to PerthManila to Cape Town, the world’s cities are building out public connectivity programs with help from companies like Motorola and iiNet.

The major opportunity for private/public technology partnerships is to create order from chaos: to accelerate and simplify the day-to-day bustle of navigating a big city.” 

The public/private partnership between for-profit companies and the cities they’re connecting is mutually beneficial. Private companies provide proven technology that accelerates the development of connected cities—without Motorola, for example, Tel Aviv may have taken much longer to roll out a Wi-Fi initiative.

For private companies, partner cities are a new market for lucrative connectivity products that can be used to enhance brand recognition amongst large urban audiences. The cities win as well by being able to offer free public Wi-Fi without bearing the entire cost of infrastructure development, especially considering the installation, maintenance, and elaborate device architecture (including ethernet switches, access points, and wireless controllers) needed to support public connectivity.

Google’s planned partnership with LinkNYC will ultimately increase connectivity for New York residents and tourists, but it will also be an advertising product. The high-speed Wi-Fi pylons that Google and LinkNYC plan to install will feature fibre-optic speed, Google Maps, and charging stations, but will also display targeted digital advertisements on the side of the pylon. Furthermore, Google will be able to serve digital display ads on connected users' devices. As the first major outdoor Wi-Fi partner in New York, Google will be first to claim the valuable physical and digital advertising inventory driven by a high volume audience (if the product is successful).

In London, outdoor advertising company Exterion Media is building an even more direct public advertising experience. The company is working with the London Transit Agency to equip 500 London buses with beacon technology that will allow advertisers to send messages to riders’ smartphones that are tailored to the apps the rider has downloaded to her phone or to the advertisements she sees on the bus around her. Passengers will be able to respond, interact, and redeem special offers, breaking up what may otherwise be a dull commute.

For customers with expensive data plans, increased public connectivity in the world’s cities may be a welcome way to stay online without incurring the costs, but the benefits of these public/private technology partnerships can extend far beyond Wi-Fi and special offers from advertising.

In Tokyo, smartphone users get help navigating the city’s labyrinthine Shibuya Station— visited by 3-million commuters every day—from Bluetooth beacons that provide turn-by-turn directions to the right platform for the user’s trip.

Following a £24 million grant from the UK Technology Strategy BoardGlasgow meticulously mapped the city’s walking tours, cycling paths, and points of interest, and made the data available to residents and visitors on the web and in smartphone apps. The city’s streets are laid with sensors that determine the volume of cars on the road and adjust traffic lights accordingly to reduce congestion for drivers.

New York’s CitiBike bicycle-sharing program, which enables almost 100,000 people a season to navigate the city on two wheels, recently updated its technology so that riders can get real-time updates on bike availability and receive email receipts immediately after completing a ride.  Like the city’s planned partnership with Google, CitiBike provides residents and visitors a valuable service—in this case, the ability to travel by bike without owning one—while Citibank itself gains outdoor advertising space and an expected uptick in brand recognition and affinity. And Citibank is certainly incentivized to keep improving the service; each incremental enhancement to CitiBike’s technology should improve the customer experience and, in doing so, attract more customers and increase the value of the brand footprint.

With great connectivity comes great responsibility, and to ensure success, connected cities should follow the north star of creating value for residents and visitors in the same way their private partners seek to provide value to consumers. The major opportunity for private/public technology partnerships is to create order from chaos: to use connectivity, technology, and data to categorize, accelerate, and simplify the day-to-day bustle of navigating a big city—without losing the quirks and character that attract so many to cities in the first place.

By providing value for residents and visitors, technology partners will ultimately attract the customers to the services that drive impressions for advertising products and resultantly, each company’s bottom line. City-specific services also allow technology partners to sell highly-targeted, valuable ad units based on demographics as granular as specific neighborhoods or intersections.

As public/private technology partnerships mature, appropriate data use will have to be considered closely and restrictions set to respect customer data privacy will likely evolve.”

But in order to reap the benefits of public/private technology partnerships, companies must be vigilant to avoid potential pitfalls.

Programs dependent on advertising revenue must be careful to balance ads with the connected content users have come to enjoy. Advertisements served as users log in to public Wi-Fi should not stall internet access.  When possible, these advertisements should take advantage of customer location data to serve ads that are relevant to where the user is and what she may be doing. For example, an ad served to a rider on Exterion Media’s London buses for a clothing retailer with a location along the bus route is relatively actionable and potentially more valuable for the rider than a an ad for a less immediately available retailer.

Finally, these partnerships need to be cognizant of user sensitivity to data privacy and clearly communicate the terms of service to customers. Public Wi-Fi programs will give both cities and their technology partners access to troves of new customer data, but these programs will need to draw a line on appropriate and inappropriate use of that data.

Leveraging the data for targeted advertising is a concept customers may be more familiar with, but what about some further potential applications of this data analysis? Should public browsing history be searched in a high crime area to identify potential infractions, even if it means the browsing history of non-criminal citizens is combed through as well? As public/private technology partnerships mature, appropriate data use will have to be considered closely and restrictions will likely be set to respect customer data privacy.

Today’s public/private technology partnerships are laying the foundation for a connected future to become reality, and the most effective initiatives will be those that push beyond free public Wi-Fi to build innovative experiences that empower users to interact with their cities like never before.

As long as cities and their private technology partners prioritize the creation of valuable user experiences and respect sensitive issues like data privacy, they'll have the opportunity to fuse our physical and digital worlds to proactively deliver data, history, and recommendations based on hyperlocal context.

“Turn left here and you’ll avoid waiting 2 minutes at the crosswalk … That restaurant you’re walking by? Here are three dishes we know you’ll love.”

(Originally Published on Sparksheet // August 4, 2015)

Innovation Rises from Overnight Code-a-Thons

Innovation Rises from Overnight Code-a-Thons

At 5:30am, we emerged to find Manhattan’s Financial District shrouded in a low-hanging silver cloud. As the sun rose, the usually bustling streets were silent and ethereal, and the emerging sunshine slowly added color to our world.

We arrived at the edge of the Hudson River to see skyscrapers that seemed to be floating on a futuristic cityscape, bordered by tall ships poised to sail off across the clouds to Neverland.

All of this was even more surreal because we had been awake for almost 24 hours straight for our latest Code-a-thon.

WHY A CODE-A-THON?

At Centric Digital, we see Code-a-thons as a way to rapidly accelerate new ideas and experiment with digital products and experiences.

We’ll start with a group brainstorm session about a business problem that needs solving. This includes questions like, “How can we gamify health engagement?” or, “How can we drive customers more rapidly down the path to purchase?”

After the brainstorm, we turn our ideas into a functioning prototype of a responsive website or native app, starting with sketches and wireframes before moving into design, data, and development. But instead of the standard multi-week product cycle, all of this takes place in about 32 hours.

It takes a lot of brainpower — and even more Redbull, pizza, and Indian food — to push through an overnight Code-a-thon. But we always end up with a better understanding of the problem and a digital prototype that can help jump-start development in the weeks to come. The beautiful sunrise is just an added bonus.

(Originally Published on the Centric Digital blog // August 3, 2015)