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Source: This article was published managementhelp.org - Contributed by Member: David J. Redcliff

Planning Your Business Research

The following information is intended to give the reader some general guidance about planning a basic research effort in their organization. The rest of the information in the section presents an overview of methods used in business, how to apply them, and how to analyze and interpret and report results.

Research Plans Depend on Information You Need and Available Resources

Often, organization members want to know everything about their products, services, programs, etc. Your research plans depend on what information you need to collect in order to make major decisions about a product, service, program, etc. Usually, you're faced with a major decision due to, e.g., ongoing complaints from customers, need to convince funders/bankers to loan money, unmet needs among customers, the need to polish an internal process, etc.

The more focused you are about what you want to gain by your research, the more effective and efficient you can be in your research, the shorter the time it will take you and ultimately the less it will cost you (whether in your own time, the time of your employees and/or the time of a consultant).

There are trade-offs, too, in the breadth and depth of information you get. The more breadth you want, usually the less depth you'll get (unless you have a great deal of resources to carry out the research). On the other hand, if you want to examine a certain aspect of a product, service, program, eta., in great detail, you will likely not get as much information about other aspects as well.

For those starting out in research or who have very limited resources, they can use various methods to get a good mix of breadth and depth of information. They can understand more about certain areas of their products, services, programs, eta., and not go bankrupt doing so.

Key Considerations to Design Your Research Approach

Good business research is about collecting the information you really need, when you need it, to answer important questions and make important business decisions. What is the key to doing good business research? To make the best use of your time, get the information you really need, and make the best business decision, consider the following key questions before doing your research:

1. Why am I doing this research? What important decision am I trying to make?

Always have an important decision in mind when you are doing your research. You are too busy to waste time collecting information to help make a decision that is not vital to your business, or worse yet – collecting information with no purpose in mind. With a clear decision in mind, you will be able to keep your research focused.

2. When do I need to make my decision?

Timing is everything in business. Having 60% of the questions answered in time to make your decision is better than having 100% of the answers after the deadline’s passed. But on the other hand, if your important decision really can wait, there’s no sense in rushing into things and acting on less information that you might have been able to get if you had taken your time. So you need to have a clear sense of when you need to make your important decision.

3. What questions do I really need to answer to make my decision? What information do I really need to answer my questions?

This is where many people get lost in their research. What do you really need to know to be able to make your business decision? Do you need to know a little about a bunch of things, or a lot of a few things? What kind of information do you need? Numbers? Opinions? And how much is enough? (A good rule of thumb is, the more important the decision, the better the information you should collect.) How you answer these questions will have a big impact on where you are going to have to go to get your information, and how you are going to get it.

4. Where is the best place (and who are the best people) to get the information I really need?

Overall, information sources can be broken down into two kinds: primary and secondary. Primary sources are those people and organizations in your marketplace, for example, your potential customers, suppliers, and competitors. Secondary sources are reports, articles, and statistics about the people in your marketplace.

While there are exceptions, it is usually safe to start with your secondary sources, because the information’s usually readily available at low or no cost. Once you have gotten what you can from the secondary sources, ask yourself the question, “Do I really need more information to make my decision?” If you really do, turn your attention to your primary information sources to get the last vital pieces of information you need. But often you can get what you really need from secondary sources.

The real challenge for you with secondary information sources is not having too little information. You will likely be faced with a large amount of information for any decision. The real challenge will be to selectively pick the best from what is available. And it is always a good idea to use at least two good sources of information for any decision and to make sure that these different sources agree with each other.

If you have done things right up to this point, selecting your sources – primary and secondary – should not be too hard. You will know what decision you are trying to make and when you need to make it, and you will know what information you really need to make that decision. And if you can explain this to the reference librarian at your local library, they will get you pointed in the right direction. It is worth noting that many people go “researching” way before they really know what they are researching – and they waste a lot of time in the process.

5. What options do I have to collect that information?

With secondary information sources, the collection is straightforward. You go to the source (library, resource center or website) and ask for the information. With primary information sources, deciding upon the right method is a little more involved. When considering your options, always remember to keep your business decision, timing and the information you really need clearly in your mind. These will help you to make the best decision.

6. What resources do I have to collect that information? Who or what can help me?

You are almost ready to go out and do your research. One final consideration is about the resources you have, or have access to. These resources can include:

  • The time you are willing to commit
  • Friends and family members who are willing and able to help you
  • The money you are willing and able to spend
  • Access to the internet, your trainer
  • Other resource people in your community like the reference librarian at your local library

7. Given the time, options, and resources I have, what is the best way for me to get the information I need?

Now it is time to make a decision about how you are going to do your research. This is not so much a separate step as it is something that will emerge as you go through the earlier steps. Still, it is good to stop and think it through one last time before you move forward.

8. What am I actually going to do and when?

Okay – it is time to commit to a plan of action. Create a business research action plan to collect your thoughts.

Now you are ready to consider various methods to collect and analyze your data.

For the Category of Business Research:

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Categorized in Business Research

Google also expected to announce integration of the Assistant into GE appliances.

Google’s developer conference kicks off tomorrow in Mountain View, Calif. One of the expected announcements, according to a Bloomberg report, is the expansion of AI and the Google Assistant to a range of other devices, including the iPhone:

At the Google I/O conference this week, the Alphabet Inc. unit plans to bring it to at least three more places: iPhones, coffee tables and kitchens. The Mountain View, California-based company is set to announce a version of its AI-powered assistant for Apple Inc.’s iPhone as soon as Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

 

The report says that it will be presented as a “free, standalone app” that can be downloaded from the App Store. It’s not clear whether it will be an update of the Google app or a new app called Google Assistant. The report also says that it will integrate with other Google apps installed on users’ iPhones.

Google’s Photos app will reportedly also be enhanced with more AI capabilities (it already has the Assistant baked in). Google will also enable the creation of physical “coffee table books” through the app.

Perhaps most interesting is the expected integration of the Google Assistant into home appliances made by GE:

Google is also integrating its Assistant into GE home appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, washers and dryers. Users will be able to ask the Assistant how many cleaning pods are left in the dishwasher, or tell it to pre-heat the oven to 350F, or ask if the laundry is clean.

Samsung is likely to do something similar with its Assistant, Bixby. Bixby may be partly or wholly based on acquisition Viv. The battle for the smart home is well underway.

Last week, AI was also front and center at Microsoft’s developer conference. The company said that AI was being integrated into all of its products, from Office to the XBox.

If the Bloomberg report is accurate (and I presume it is), the Google Assistant will join Cortana in seeking to lure users away from Siri, Apple’s digital assistant. While Siri has a built-in advantage over rivals, literally, Google Assistant on the iPhone puts additional pressure on Apple to improve Siri’s performance.

In a recent Stone Temple Consulting analysis, Google Assistant was found to be the most comprehensive and accurate vs. Alexa, Siri and Cortana.

Source: This article was published searchengineland By Greg Sterling

Categorized in Search Engine

Microsoft’s event on May 2nd is expected to see the Redmond-based company continue to push its ambitions in cloud-based services with a tweaked version of Windows 10 and a potential low-cost Surface device designed to fight the rise of Google’s Chromebook platform in the educational market.

As discussed last week on Forbes, Microsoft’s focus will primarily on software, and how this can drive users into the cloud. But it also offers an opportunity to debut new hardware that backs up the drive to the cloud. There is a suspicion that Microsoft will release a lower-specced Surface device that will use Windows 10 Cloud - a new variant of Windows 10 that focuses on cloud services and has an eye on lower cost technology.

 

It may be that Microsoft keeps the Surface brand for the higher end equipment, but with the recent leak of specifications around Windows 10 Cloud machines, Microsoft is going to be part of the game, even if it is via third-party hardware.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (image: Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)Bloomberg
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (image: Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

The leaked details were first reported by Daniel Rubino on Windows Central and not only include the real world targets that a Windows 10 Cloud machine should be looking to achieve ( including ten hours of battery life for all-day use, twenty seconds from cold boot to login, and resume to login in under two seconds; all of which are comparable to Chromebook benchmarks) but also includes the recommended minimum specifications: a quad-core processor (Celeron or better), 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (64GB if it is a 64-bit system), a battery in excess of 40Whr and a ‘fast’ eMMC or SSD. Use of a pen or touch-enabled screen is specifically noted as being optional.

This is slightly higher than the Surface 3 which was discontinued last year (its Intel Atom chip and 28WHr battery being the two black marks) so there is space in Microsoft’s own portfolio for a refreshed Surface 3 style device.

Microsoft Surface 3 (Image: Ewan Spence)Ewan Spence
Microsoft Surface 3 (Image: Ewan Spence)

Thanks to the use of the #MicrosoftEDU hashtag, it is fair to say that the education market will feature in the May 2nd event. Once you look at the Chromebook growth in the education market, Microsoft’s push toward cloud-based services, rumors of a low-cast clamshell device with potential Surface branding and the details obtained by Windows Central, a clear picture emerges of Microsoft’s ambition to use low-cost hardware to increase the adoption of its cloud-based services.

Source : forbes.com

Categorized in Internet Technology

Earlier this year at Facebook's F8 conference, the company revealed three innovation pillars that make up the company's ten-year vision: connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality (VR). Facebook's Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer is responsible for leading each of them. Despite the fact that the vision is ten-years in duration, the company has made significant progress in each.

Facebook's progress in AI can been seen in everything from the company's news feed to the way in which people are tagged. The virtual reality innovations are best demonstrated through the Oculus Rift, which I demo'd last Thursday. More recently, the company made a great flight forward on the connectivity pillar as Acquila, a long-endurance plane that will fly above commercial aircraft and the weather, took flight in Arizona. The goal is for this v-shaped aircraft that has a wingspan longer than a Boeing 737, but weighs under 1,o00 pounds to bring basic internet access to the developing world.

I met with Schroepfer at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, and we discussed these three pillars and a variety of other topics, including the company's recruiting methods, how the company maintains its innovative edge, and the logic behind its headquarters - one of the largest open-space offices in the world.

(This interview is excerpted from the 250th broadcast of the Forum on World Class IT. To listen to that unabridged interview, please visit this link. This is the 18th interview in the IT Influencers series. To listen to past interviews with the likes of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Sal Khan, Sebastian Thrun, Steve Case, and Walt Mossberg, please visit this link.)

Peter High: Earlier this year at F8 2016, Facebook’s developer’s conference, you introduced three innovation pillars. Could you take a moment to highlight each of them?

Mike Schroepfer: We have been, I think pretty uniquely in the industry, very public about our ten-year vision and roadmap, and we have broken it down into three core areas:

  • connectivity, connecting the approximately four billion people in the world who do not have internet access today (the majority of the world);
  • artificial intelligence in solving some of the core problems and building truly intelligent computer systems; and
  • virtual reality and augmented reality, building the next generation of computing systems that have probably the best promise that I am aware of to give me the ability to feel like I am present with someone in the same room, even if they are thousands of miles away.

High: With the abundant resources and brain power at Facebook, how did you choose those three as opposed to others?

Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer

Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer

 

Schroepfer: A lot of this derives directly from [Facebook CEO] Mark [Zuckerberg], and comes from the mission, which is to make the world more open and connected. I think of this simply as using technology to connect people. We sit down and say, “OK, if that is our goal, the thing we are uniquely suited for, what are the big problems of the world?” As you start breaking it down, these fall out quite naturally. The first problem is if a bunch of the world does not even have basic connectivity to the internet, that is a fundamental problem. Then you break it down and realize there are technological solutions to problems; there are things that can happen to dramatically reduce the cost of deploying infrastructure, which is the big limiting factor. It is just an economics problem. Once people are connected, you run into the problem you and I have, which is almost information overload. There is so much information out there, but I have limited time and so I may not be getting the best information. Then there is the realization that the only way to scale that is to start building intelligent systems in AI that can be my real-time assistant all the time, making sure that I do not miss anything that is critical to me and that I do not spend my time on stuff that is less important. The only way we know how to do that at the scale we operate at is artificial intelligence.

So there is connectivity and I am getting the right information, but most of us have friends or family who are not physically next to us all the time, and we cannot always be there for the most important moments in life. The state of the art technology we have for that right now is the video camera. If I want to capture a moment with my kids and remember it forever, that is the best we can do right now. The question is, ‘What if I want to be there live and record those moments in a way that I can relive them twenty years from now as if I was there?’ That is where virtual reality comes in. It gives you the capability of putting a headset on and experiencing it today, and you feel like you are in a real world somewhere else, wherever you want to be.

High: How do you think about those longer term goals, the things that are going to take a lot of stair steps to get to, versus the near-term exhaust of ideas that are going to be commercialized and commercial-ready?

Schroepfer: The biggest thing that I try to emphasize when I talk about the ten-year plan is to be patient when it does not work because no great thing is just a straight linear shot. I have started companies in the past and it is never a straight shot. The time at Facebook is seen from the outside as maybe always things are going great, but there are always a lot of ups and downs along the way. The key thing is not to get discouraged in the times when it is not going well. The other thing is if you can have intermediate milestones along the way which help you understand that you are making progress, that is handy. AI is quite easy because the team has already deployed tons of stuff that dramatically improves the Facebook experience every day. This can be as simple as techniques to help us better rank photos, so you do not miss the important photos in your life, to more fundamental things like earlier this year we launched assistive technology so that if you have a visual impairment and cannot see the billions of images uploaded every day on Facebook we can generate and read you a caption. We could not ever do that at human scale.

These are happening every day and, at the same time, we are working on much harder problems. How do you teach a computer to ingest a bunch of unstructured data, like the contents of a Wikipedia article, and then answer questions about it? That seems straightforward, but that is the frontier of artificial intelligence where you can reason and understand about things that are not pre-digested and pre-optimized by a person who put it in a nice key value format for you. When you look at that, that stuff is farther reaching and rudimentary.

In VR we want to deliver products on the market today so you can go into your Best Buy today and buy an Oculus Rift headset. Realize that that is going to be a relatively small market in 2016. Compared to the billion people today who use Facebook, it is going to seem tiny, but we hope every year better content will occur. We will release updated systems every few years, and as the systems get better and cheaper, low and behold in ten years you will have hundreds of millions of people in VR, rather than a few million. You have to have patience for that ramp, and not get disappointed when it does not have that many users in the short term.

There are intermediate milestones on the connectivity side, like our first flight of Aquila a couple of weeks ago, which was awesome and mind-bending and people were literally in tears. But that was the first flight of our first vehicle. There are many steps between that and a vehicle which is fully ready to perform the end goal, which is providing internet access for people where it is too expensive to lay fiber lines across a large area. So you try to have a long term vision, be patient when things might fail, but then also have these intermediate steps where you can be making progress and adding value and see where things are going. At least that is the way I think of it.

High: To solve the problems you are going after requires not only brain power, but also people with a wide array of backgrounds, perhaps more so than when the company began. You need the whole swath of STEM topics, people with advanced neuroscience specialties, and so forth. Especially here in Silicon Valley, where there is such a war for talent, how do you think about talent acquisition?

Schroepfer: Honestly, this is the real joy of the job. Now we are in this place where certainly it is a challenge to find talent, but magic occurs when it is cross-disciplinary. Let’s talk about flying this aircraft. You have high end composite material, electrical systems and electrical engines. A key part is using latest generation battery technology using solar cells. Then we need a communication system that can beam internet up and down between this plane, which means we are doing free space optics and have laser communications and laser transmitters and receivers. You need a software system that can help control flight on this aircraft, an aircraft that has never been built before. We need to build simulations of what this thing is going to look like. You have your machine learning software, hardware, electrical, aeronautics, material science, and all of these things together. When you can get them into a small team—this is a few dozen people together—and you get them clearly oriented on this goal, a lot of great stuff happens. Our core strategy in the company, our technology, is about bringing people together.

High:  How much liberty do people have to explore ideas in areas of their own choosing?

Schroepfer: A lot. A fundamental principle from the beginning of when I was here was that you have smart, well-educated people who are at the top of their field and they can work anywhere. They are going to be best used if you have them working on the thing that they are excited about. If they wake up in the morning and run in to work because they cannot wait to solve the problem, then they are going to produce much better stuff. There are certainly times where we try to convince someone to try to work on something else, or explain to them what is important, but a lot of my job ends up being to get the right talent here, and then to clearly and crisply articulate our end goal: “This is what I want you to work on. There are lots of ways you can contribute. Figure out what part of this makes you the most excited and dive in and go.” Then we can start putting some of the pieces together and build some of this technology. So there is a lot of freedom in what we do.

High: How do you think about building an ecosystem to do this outside of the company, in addition to the team you have built inside the company?

Schroepfer: This is an area where we have tried to innovate a lot. If you go back even five or six years to the foundation of the Open Compute Project, this was like everyone has accepted that open source is a great way to develop software. I used to work at Mozilla and we built a browser in open source. Pretty much every company out there has Linux running somewhere—that has open source; we all contributed to the same Linux kernel, but did not do it for hardware. We said, “Let’s do that for hardware.” So our datacenter designed the buildings themselves, the racks, the servers—everything in there is open for people to collaborate. Now you have the whole industry collaborating, including, very recently, Google. We are running that same playbook now in connectivity, such as in telecom infrastructure. If we can get the industry together, it ends up benefitting everyone because you share in a bunch of the core IP, you build on the same components, you get economies of scale and production, stuff is cheaper, and it gets more proliferated out there.

When you look at things like AI research, we are aggressively publishing and open sourcing our work. We are at all the major conferences. I was just reviewing with the team recently the core advances they had developed. One they had developed a few years ago was called “memory networks” as a way to attach a sort of a short-term memory to a convolutional neural net, and that was a capability we had not had before. The work then was in 2014 and since then there have been citations to that work. Every month there is a new paper out which shows a new advancement and enhancement to that technique that improves on some basic question and answering benchmarks. You look at the aggregate rate of throughput of the entire industry, versus if we just did it ourselves, and it is great because we can fast forward by building on work that just happened and be two years ahead of where we would be if we had just tried to do it ourselves. Fundamental technology can benefit lots of things besides Facebook. Whenever we can do that, we are big fans.

High: How do you keep yourself abreast of new innovations that are happening both at your company and outside your company?

Schroepfer: This is where I think I might have the best job in the industry. First of all, I read everything I can see. But even better than that is I get to go sit down and talk with the teams doing the work and that is by far the best part of my day. Just a few weeks ago, I sat down with the Facebook research team and we did a day-long briefing on all of the work that they are doing. Here is Yann LeCun, who has written the seminal papers on convolutional neural nets in the 1990’s, taking the team through his vision of where we are going. The team is reviewing not just the work they are doing, but, because they publish and open source it, also the work other people have built on top of that to solve similar problems. Then I walk away from that and get to talk to some people here building some of the latest social apps with VR and look at what we are trying out there. I get a chance to talk to people in the industry at tech conferences or when I see people doing interesting work, and I get a chance to understand what is happening there. It is a lot of fun. It is honestly hard to keep up with because there is so much stuff happening all the time and it is all fun and fascinating.

High: Having had a chance to walk around headquarters here, I want to ask how you have thought about creating a space that fosters the collaboration necessary, not only within these four walls, but also beyond that, wherever Facebook is?

Schroepfer: You are sitting in a building which is one of the world’s largest single floor office buildings. It is 2,800 people on a single floor with no individualized offices—you see everyone sitting out in desks here. This was designed as an experiment to see how far we could push collaboration if we had literally thousands of people in the same room. There are VC systems in every room so people can VC between our major offices. Obviously, one of the secret weapons we have had, that we have now made available to others, is Facebook itself. Everyone is on Facebook all day, because we work here, and it turns into a great collaboration tool: you have Facebook groups, Facebook messenger, you have all these great ways which are fundamentally about aggregating a bunch of information and being able to keep up with it. It could be ‘let’s see what my friends are up to’, or it could be what sixteen different teams are working on at the same time. The tools work well for that, too.

The subtle thing that I think a lot of people miss is that the key to collaboration is when people can bring their perspective and their point of view and their expertise, and spend the time it takes to understand the other person and empathize with what problem they are working on. This could be across domains. Let’s say I am a machine learning person and I am trying to understand what a medical doctor is trying to do to look at patterns in drug discoveries. The more I can understand about their problem, the more I can help them with that. A lot of what our culture builds is that basic empathy because you are on Facebook and so not only are you seeing what is going on with colleagues at work, but you are seeing what is going on in their real life, too: kids going off to school next week or coming back from vacation. It brings this sense of cohesion I have not ever experienced in any other organization anywhere near our scale.

High: As the organization grows, as it becomes a technology behemoth, to what extent do you worry or think about maintaining that smaller company feel, and the entrepreneurial spirit? Obviously, there are many innovative companies that have come before you that had bright days in the sun and then experienced a lot of rainy days after that.

Schroepfer: That is something we think about all the time. There are pros and cons of growth. The “pro” is that we are working on all this exciting stuff and we have specialists in all these areas. If you are an engineer joining the company and you want to learn more about AI or more about aircraft or virtual reality, we have all of that for you to do today in house, which is awesome and a big plus. But it is challenging to get a larger group of people unified under a common mission. I think this boils down to a couple things that we work on all the time. The first is that you want people to have a real sense of alignment towards the end goal. What can happen in a large organization is it gets federated and everyone is working on different things and so their goals are not aligned. We are clear about our mission – connecting people using technology—and we are clear that if you are excited about that, great, come here, and if you are not, there are lots of other great places to work.

 

I like to think that a lot of our job is engineering the culture. If you think about engineering as building a system, the way in which we all work together is a system, and we can spend time engineering that—as simple as what is your experience onboarding as a new hire. For most companies, that is a day and a half filling out a bunch of paperwork. For us, it is an intensive, six-week, boot camp onboarding which is designed to get you as exposed to as much technology and people across the company as possible. At the end of those six weeks, no matter what you are working on, you have met hundreds of engineers across the company, and not just in a superficial way. You have written a piece of code and had someone review it, and you have poked around and talked to them and asked them about a bug. So when you exit boot camp, everyone gets to know each other well because whether you have been fifteen years in the industry or you are just out of college, we are both figuring out Facebook, and that builds a bond. That gets spread throughout the company and you build connections between those people in the class, and each one of those individuals met tons of people across the company, so when someone has a question about something a team is doing, it is like “Oh, I met Mary when I was working on this bug. I will go ask her. Maybe she knows who to talk to.” It builds those loose connections that are so critical to building that cohesion.

I could go on and on because we have program after program designed to solve this exact problem, which is building cohesion across the groups. After boot camp, it is hackamonth, where, eighteen months into your job, you take a month and completely rotate to another team. You can learn a new skill, work in a different area entirely, meet a whole new group of people, and just continue this cohesion across the company.

High: You did that yourself, as Sheryl Sandberg and you switched jobs for a week.

Schroepfer: Absolutely. I learned what it was like to be in her shoes, and vice versa. We are just trying to keep it mixed up wherever we can, which I think is helping. It is a hard problem, so there is a lot to work on, but it is something we focus on.

High: If I could take it one step further back in the chain to the recruiting process: how do you evaluate talent? Especially now that the company is shooting for long-term objectives, and given some of the uncertainty and value you are seeking, how do you think about talent acquisition?

Schroepfer: The first obvious thing you want to do is see whether they have the raw skills needed to accomplish the job—and that is a much broader palette than it used to be. It used to be mostly software engineering, but now it could be electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, a specialty in AI. For each of those roles, there are different ways, but basically it boils down to some form of technical verification that they are state of the art in that field. The second is that collaboration is important to us. Part of the interview process is collaborative problem solving. Half of it is did they get the answer right, and the other half is whether they able to work with the other person in the room towards that answer because that is the way the real world is. Hollywood has the person in the basement, solo, creating everything, but nothing interesting I have ever seen is made that way. It is always a team. We just want to make sure that this person can communicate clearly and collaborate well with the group, and that is what we look for.

Author : Peter High

Source : http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterhigh/2016/08/15/facebooks-10-year-plan-connectivity-artificial-intelligence-and-virtual-reality/3/#4e865773c3cd

Categorized in Social

92%Ninety-two percent of retailers are investing in social media marketing.

Retailers are boosting their social media ad budgets, and Facebook has become the social vehicle of choice, according to a new survey on digital marketing from the National Retail Federation and Forrester.

The Shop.org State of Retailing Online 2016: Marketing and Merchandising report found the following:

- Ninety-two percent of retailers are investing in social media marketing to some degree, second only to email.

- Seventy-six percent of retail executives said they plan to more on social media over the next year, more than any other marketing tactic. Specifically, 71 percent of retailers say they will shell out more for paid Facebook posts and ads, and 37 percent plan to boost spending on Instagram.

- Other forms of digital marketing aren’t being neglected: 53 percent are increasing their search engine optimization budgets, and 52 percent will splurge on search engine marketing.

- Retailers find social media marketing more effective than paid search. In particular, Facebook and Instagram ads seem to be paying off: 68 percent of retailers surveyed said that they were seeing greater conversion from paid Facebook ads, and 40 percent were reaping increased rewards from Facebook-owned Instagram. After that: Pinterest, YouTube, and Twitter.

 

- Mobile remains important: 66 percent of retailers said they would spend more on mobile marketing, but most are not investing in new technologies like beacons. But execs want their materials optimized for phone browsers, as an average of 45 percent of emails are opened on smartphones, versus 41 percent on desktop devices.

- Fifty-five percent of retailers surveyed are ramping up their online merchandising budgets, and 44 percent are allocating more staff to web merchandising.

Source : http://www.jckonline.com

 

The tech titan wants to change the future of healthcare. But first, it needs to come up with a useful product.

 

Glucose-monitoring contact lenses for diabetics, wrist computers that read diagnostic nanoparticles injected in the blood stream, implantable devices that modify electrical signals that pass along nerves, medication robots, human augmentation, human brain simulation -- the list goes on.

That's not an inventory of improbable CGI effects from the latest sci-fi movie, it's a list of initiatives being tackled by Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Life Sciences research unit, recently rebranded Verily.

For those who appreciate The Motley Fool's affection for William Shakespeare, "verily" is Shakespearean-era word that means "truly," or "confidently." As in: "I verily believe that sweater is the ugliest one I have ever seen."

Confidence certainly exemplifies Google. Verily was hatched from Google X, the company's secretive lab for oft-nutty projects, such as space elevators, teleportation, and hoverboards. Google X also launched Google Glass, which was undoubtedly a super-cool device, but wasn't received well by its intended market, to put it mildly.

With that kind of background, what are the chances Verily will unleash something that will change healthcare? Are good things about to flow? Or -- courtesy of the Bard of Avon -- is Verily merely a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Let's look at Verily's current financial situation and then check out the prospect of a marketable product that could move Google's needle.

A pound of flesh, but no blood


Like the moneylender in the Merchant of Venice, Verily demands a pound of flesh from its parent each quarter. Alphabet, Google's newfangled conglomerate, doesn't break out the performance of subsidiaries, but last quarter's earnings report offered a view into costs and output.

Verily is a subsidiary lumped under Other Bets with Google's broadband business and smart home company. Revenue from Other Bets doubled to $185 million from $74 million in the year-earlier period, and rose 11% sequentially. Costs also increased: Operating losses widened to $859 million from $660 million a year ago and moved up 7% from the previous quarter.

Despite the costs incurred, it's certainly not bleeding its parent dry. After all, Google has an almost endless supporting budget, and if any of Verily's projects pan out, what's being expended now will look like pocket change.

In addition, while some Verily ventures may seem frankly nuts, they might have actual potential. A recent joint venture with U.K. drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) will use implants that create electrical pulses to help the body heal itself. The collaborators have agreed to spend up to $716 million over seven years, with GSK holding 55% of the joint venture and Verily 45%. It's a new field, called bioelectronic medicine. Despite the quasi-scientific sound of this endeavor, early studies reported in peer-reviewed journals have shown positive results in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

SanofiAbbVie, and Biogen have also teamed up with Verily over the past few years. Big pharma hopes to tap into Google's data analysis tools, as well as license Verily's miniaturized medical devices (after they are developed), to tackle various disease targets. In a slightly different kind of venture, Johnson & Johnson has inked a deal with Verily to develop medical robots.

The less you speak of your greatness, the more shall I think of it

None of these ventures have led to a useful product yet. Meanwhile, Verily has been skewered by multiple scientists for not critically assessing the actual potential behind its various moonshots. "One needs to balance how much these toys are used mostly for marketing and giving a sense of a company really working on something impressive -- the brave new world -- or if we're talking about something that will have clear and immediate clinical impact. The latter is very hard to imagine," said Dr. John Ioannidis, a professor of disease prevention at Stanford University, commenting on Verily's projects.

 

In the blink of an eye

In light of that, what about one of Verily's oldest initiatives? Looking back to 2012, the life sciences unit was originally developed to create "smart" contact lenses whose super-cool images were appearing all over the internet a scant two years ago. Designed to measure blood glucose levels, the lenses featured sensors and chips the size of flecks of glitter and a wireless antenna thinner than a human hair.

On the face of it, a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) lens seems to meet Ioannidis' criteria of having a "clear clinical impact." Better yet: it has an investable thesis. Verily and its big pharma partner Novartis (NYSE:NVS) are aiming straight at the $10 billion diabetes monitoring market. With this kind of market, the project was clearly capable of becoming a needle-moving revenue generator.

Look a little deeper, though, and the view is cloudier.

DexCom(NASDAQ:DXCM) Executive VP Steve Pacelli pointed out, "Lots of companies have tried and failed noninvasively to sense glucose in tears. You can measure glucose in tears, but the concentration is a lot lower, there's going to be huge time lag issues; the consistency of measurement is going to be a challenge."

There's a bigger problem. Both Dexcom and Medtronic(NYSE:MDT) have continuous glucose monitors on the market, but both face a major hurdle. The FDA does not consider continuous glucose monitoring -- from any device -- accurate enough to prescribe insulin dosing by itself. While CGM devices are being used, their market is very limited, since they are only allowed to be used as supplemental devices.

Google's CGM lens will face the same FDA hurdle -- assuming this product comes out of the lab.

The long and short of it

Apple, Microsoft, Intel -- virtually all the tech titans, in fact -- are now pursuing major initiatives in healthcare. A confluence of factors, such as digitization of records, machine intelligence, genetic engineering, and rapid advances in medical equipment, have made the field ripe for disruption from data-enabled, mobile-based, and miniaturized devices.

Even more enticing are the opportunities to massively grow revenue. The tech giants are billion-dollar companies, but healthcare spending is approaching $3 trillion annually in the U.S. alone. Looking globally, the World Health Organization estimates the annual expenditure at $6.5 trillion.

Bottom line: Despite the big carrot enticing it, Google has yet to come up with anything that can lay claim to changing healthcare. Although Alphabet could be a potentially interesting addition to your healthcare portfolio, it should be added with the understanding that there are many other pure-play companies with a much clearer path and investing thesis than Verily.

Still, let's allow Shakespeare to have the final word. While the bard makes an unlikely investment guru, he had plenty of useful things to say that have lasted through centuries, including: "Though this be madness, yet there is method to it."

In other words, it may be that hidden within Google's craziness lies the seed of something that could still astonish us. And no matter what, we can be sure of one thing: The ultimate search engine will keep grabbing headlines with its latest moonshots. After all, we're talking about Google.

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Source : http://www.fool.com/investing/2016/09/03/how-google-plans-to-reinvent-healthcare.aspx

 

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