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At HR Technology Conference, Walmart says virtual reality works

LAS VEGAS — Learning technology appears to be heading for a major upgrade. Walmart is using virtual reality, or VR, to train its employees, and many other companies may soon do the same.

VR adoption is part of a larger tech shift in employee learning. For example, companies such as Wendy’s are using simulation or gamification to help employees learn about food preparation.

Deploying VR technology is expensive, with cost estimates ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to millions, attendees at the HR Technology Conference learned. But headset prices are declining rapidly, and libraries of VR training tools for dealing with common HR situations — such as how to fire an employee — may make this tool affordable to firms of all sizes.

For Walmart, a payoff of using virtual reality comes from higher job certification test scores. Meanwhile, Wendy’s has been using computer simulations to help employees learn their jobs. It is also adapting its training to the expectations of its workers, and its efforts have led to a turnover reduction. Based on presentations and interviews at the HR Technology Conference, users deploying these technologies are enthusiastic about them.

Walmart employees experience VR’s 3D

“It truly becomes an experience,” said Andy Trainor, senior director of Walmart Academies, in an interview about the impact of VR and augmented reality on training. It’s unlike a typical classroom lesson. “Employees actually feel like they experience it,” he said.

Walmart has adopted virtual reality for its training program.
Walmart’s training and virtual reality team, from left to right: Brock McKeel, senior director of digital operations at Walmart and Andy Trainor, senior director of Walmart Academies.

Walmart employees go to “academies” for training, testing and certification on certain processes, such as taking care of the store’s produce section, interacting with customers or preparing for Black Friday. As one person in a class wears the VR headset or goggles, what that person sees and experiences displays on a monitor for the class to follow.

Walmart has been using VR in training from startup STRIVR for just over a year. In classes using VR, Trainor said the company is seeing an increase in test scores as high as 15% over traditional methods of instruction. Trainor said his team members are convinced VR, with its ability to create 3D simulations, is here to stay as a training tool. 

“Life isn’t 2D,” said Brock McKeel, senior director of digital operations at Walmart. For problems ranging from customer service issues to emergency weather planning, “we want our associates to be the best prepared that we can get them to be.”

Walmart has also created a simulation-type game that helps employees understand store management. The company plans to soon release its simulation as an app for anyone to experience, Trainor said.

The old ways of training are broken

The need to do things differently in learning was a theme at the HR Technology Conference.

Life isn’t 2D.
Brock McKeelsenior director of digital operations at Walmart

The idea that employees will take time out of their day to watch a training video or read material that may not be connected to their task at hand is not effective, said David Mallon, a vice president and chief analyst at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting, based in Oakland, Calif.

The traditional methods of learning “have fallen apart,” Mallon said. Employees “want to engage with content on their terms, when they need it, where they need it and in ways that make more sense.”

Mallon’s point is something Wendy’s realized about its restaurant workers, who understand technology and have expectations about content, said Coley O’Brien, chief people officer at the restaurant chain. Employees want the content to be quick, they want the ability to swipe, and videos should be 30 seconds or less, he said.

“We really had to think about how we evolve our training approach and our content to really meet their expectations,” said O’Brien, who presented at the conference.

Wendy’s also created simulations that reproduce some of the time pressures faced with certain food-preparation processes. Employees must make choices in simulations, and mistakes are tracked. The company uses Cornerstone OnDemand’s platform.

Restaurants in which employees received a certain level of certification see higher sales of 1% to 2%, increases in customer satisfaction and a turnover reduction as high as 20%, O’Brien said.

Salesforce Interaction Studio unveiled at Connections 2018

Salesforce Interaction Studio appears to be the latest major launch in the vendor’s push to enable users to capture a more complete picture of their customers — where they choose to spend their time online, how they like vendors to market to them and which ways they prefer to communicate.

Salesforce has spent billions of dollars on acquisitions, integrations and marketing to achieve that goal. And while it’s not there yet — the targets tend to move in the rapidly changing technology landscape — Salesforce is hoping its latest integrations and new products help its customers find a more complete customer journey.

Toward that end of more smoothly guiding customers through the stages of interacting with an organization, Salesforce unveiled several new product integrations, partner integrations and new applications, including Salesforce Interaction Studio. The CRM giant made the product announcements on June 13 at its Connections 2018 conference in Chicago.

Ray Wang, a Salesforce watcher and principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research Inc., said Salesforce Interaction Studio is an effective response to the fast-increasing importance of customer experience in CRM.

“CRM is actually dead. It’s about how can you craft mass personalization at scale,” Wang said. “It’s about building that experience and journey, which has become a lot more important than CRM.”

CRM vendors such as Salesforce are moving beyond customer management and working toward improving the customer experience and journey — the process of customers interacting with a company. That progression is where Salesforce Interaction Studio comes into play.

Built out of an OEM partnership with software company Thunderhead, Salesforce Interaction Studio enables companies to analyze and manage consumer experiences. Additionally, it can recommend the next-best action for customers, depending on how they interact with that brand.

“It allows you to look at cross-channel consumer insight and see next-best action and optimize customer journey,” Wang said.

Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360

Salesforce Interaction Studio was just one of the products unveiled at Connections, a conference focusing on marketing, commerce and service.

Building off a partnership announced at Dreamforce last year, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360 are generally available for integration for Marketing Cloud customers. According to Wang, the alliance is a blow to one of Salesforce’s chief competitors, Adobe.

“The battle of analytics has been Adobe Omniture versus Google Analytics,” Wang said. “As Microsoft and Adobe have come close together, it’s natural for Salesforce and Google to become allies.”

The partnership will enable customers to merge insight from Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360 into a single dashboard within Marketing Cloud, while campaign data will be available within Google Analytics 360 to provide tailored web content.

Another feature, which won’t be available in beta until July, will allow users to create an audience in Google Analytics 360, activate it outside the Google platform and allow users to continue building that audience within Marketing Cloud.

While nothing prevented Marketing Cloud customers from using Google Analytics 360 to track web analytics, the lack of a deep integration with Marketing Cloud made it difficult for users of both to tie that information back to campaigns. By combining Google Analytics 360 with Salesforce’s inward-facing Einstein Analytics, a company can see a more holistic view of a customer’s data.

It’s not personalization — we haven’t gotten to that point yet. But it allows you to think about the type of journeys you’re creating for customers.
Ray Wangprincipal analyst and founder, Constellation Research

“Einstein takes the data inside the Salesforce platform and helps users find insights, while Google Analytics 360 component is based on web analytics,” Bobby Jania, vice president of product marketing for Marketing Cloud, said in a release. “It looks at how consumers are behaving, pages they visit [and] how long they are on there for.”

Combining those analytics insights to the insights from Salesforce Interaction Studio can go a long way in helping customers track consumers’ campaigns, according to Wang.

“It’s a huge void in Marketing Cloud and most other clouds,” Wang said. “It’s about crafting the right experience and understanding where a customer is — it takes context into account.”

While personalization is the ultimate goal for Salesforce and similar companies focused on customer journeys, that pie-in-the-sky objective is still off on the horizon.

“It’s not personalization — we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Wang said. “But it allows you to think about the type of journeys you’re creating for customers.”

B2B Commerce Cloud

Beyond Marketing Cloud and Salesforce Interaction Studio, Salesforce officially released its B2B Commerce Cloud product, formerly known as CloudCraze. Salesforce acquired the B2B e-commerce product earlier this year, having been originally built on top of Salesforce software using Force.com.

“It will make it easier to see what a user is doing on a commerce site and connect it to Marketing Cloud,” Jania said. “B2B commerce for Salesforce will make that complex order have the same UI as B2C commerce.”

The Salesforce Interaction Studio release continues Salesforce’s long-term campaign to unify sales and marketing departments within organizations.

“You have a stack at Salesforce where marketing and commerce are a lot tighter than they were before,” Wang said.

Salesforce also unveiled Integrations between Commerce Cloud and Service Cloud, allowing service reps to see customers’ buying histories during service calls, opening up the opportunities to up-sell or cross-sell other products.

Pricing information for Salesforce Interaction Studio, B2B Commerce Cloud and the Marketing Cloud-Google Analytics 360 integration wasn’t immediately available.

Apple iOS 12 USB Restricted Mode to foil thieves, law enforcement

A security feature that had popped up in beta versions of Apple’s iOS software appears to be coming in earnest as part of iOS 12, and it will protect devices against anyone trying to unlock them via USB.

USB Restricted Mode is described in the iOS 12 settings as the option to enable or deny the ability to “unlock [an] iPhone to allow USB accessories to connect when it has been more than an hour since your iPhone was locked.” In practice, this means a device will require a passcode unlock in order to connect any Lightning-to-USB accessory after the one-hour time limit has passed.

Apple didn’t mention USB Restricted Mode during the keynote at its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, but developers saw it in the iOS 12 preview, which was released that same day. The setting is on by default and covers any type of security on an iOS device — Touch ID, Face ID and passcode.

Experts noted USB Restricted Mode will protect users’ data if a device is stolen, but it will also deny law enforcement from using unlocking services from companies like GrayKey and Cellebrite — the latter of which was rumored to have helped the FBI unlock the San Bernardino, Calif., shooter’s iPhone.

Earlier tests of USB Restricted Mode had allowed for a one-week time limit, spurring GrayKey to reportedly alert customers of this feature when it surfaced in the iOS 11.3 beta, according to internal email messages obtained by Motherboard. A one-hour time limit could effectively make it impossible for customers to get the device to a company like GrayKey in time to gain brute-force access.

Rusty Carter, vice president of product management at Arxan, based in San Francisco, said USB Restricted Mode “is really about increasing the security of the device.”

If the device is vulnerable to brute-force attacks via wired connection, other security features, like being able to wipe the device after 10 unsuccessful authentication attempts, are rendered useless.
Rusty Cartervice president of product management at Arxan

“If the device is vulnerable to brute-force attacks via wired connection, other security features, like being able to wipe the device after 10 unsuccessful authentication attempts, are rendered useless … they are effectively a false sense of security,” Carter wrote via email. “Effectively, any data is vulnerable, unless the individual app developer has done the right thing both to secure and encrypt user data and require more than stored credentials or identity to access the data with their app, which is rarely the case today.”

John Callahan, CTO of Veridium, based in Quincy, Mass., said, as a developer, his initial reaction to USB Restricted Mode was, “Great, now I’ll have to unlock the phone every time I go to debug a mobile app with Xcode.” But he later realized it could have protected a lot of stolen devices if it had been implemented in an earlier version of iOS.

“USB Restricted Mode in iOS 12 a big win for users, because we are keeping more personally identifiable information on our mobile devices, including healthcare, identification and biometric data. Our phones have become our digital wallets, and we expect a maximum level of privacy and convenience,” Callahan wrote via email. “Android devices, ironically seen as less secure, have long required unlocking when connected in USB Debug mode. In many ways, Apple is playing catch-up with respect to physical device security.”

Microsoft Surface PCs Gain Ground in the Enterprise

Despite some early stumbles, Microsoft’s decision to enter the PC hardware market appears to be paying off.

The Redmond, Wash. technology giant trails just behind Apple in the business PC laptop and desktop market, according to a Spiceworks survey of nearly 1,000 IT professionals in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Three of percent of organizations use Microsoft-branded PC compared to the four percent that use Apple Macs.

“Since jumping into the hardware market with its Surface line, Microsoft has had success making inroads into the tablet and 2-in-1 market,” Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks, told eWEEK. “Many IT pros praised the hardware’s sleek design, powerful specs in a highly-portable package, and ability to run Windows, which allows employees to be productive while giving IT departments management flexibility.”

The Surface Pro, for example, offers corporate IT buyers a blend of premium packaging and powerful processors. Add long-lasting battery life to the equation and business travelers can legitimately get work done on a cross-country or trans-Atlantic flight.

Further reading

For Microsoft’s hardware ambitions, it also helps that the company is branching out beyond the 2-in-1 form factor. “In the last couple of years, Microsoft has expanded its Surface lineup to include sleek and powerful laptops and all-in-one desktops, providing more options for IT departments that liked Surface tablets and 2-in-1s, but didn’t think they were a good fit for all users,” Tsai noted.

In 2015, the company unveiled its first-ever laptop, the Surface Book. Challenging Apple’s MacBook Pro, the device features a detachable, touch- and stylus-enabled tablet with a graphical power boost provided by an optional discrete GPU (graphical processing unit) subsystem from Nvidia.

To court creative professionals, Microsoft last year launched the high-end Surface Studio all-in-one PC with a high-resolution 28-inch display that folds down to provide users with a drafting table-like experience when they put their Surface Pen stylus to the screen. This spring, in an education-themed media event in New York City, the company took the wraps off the Surface Laptop.

For technology executives who are well served by Microsoft’s software and cloud services offerings, entrusting their PC hardware needs to the company isn’t much of a stretch. “And with the success of Windows 10 and Microsoft Azure, perhaps more IT departments are now willing to give Microsoft hardware a try,” concluded Tsai.

Microsoft is well positioned to capitalize on the momentum, for the near future at least. Over the next 12 months, 15 percent of organizations plan to increase their investments in Microsoft Surface PCs compared to 8 percent for Apple laptops and PCs.

Of course, Microsoft has quite a lot of ground to cover before it can catch up to market leaders Dell and Hewlett Packard (HP).

Dell currently commands nearly half (47 percent) of the business PC market, according to the Spiceworks study. HP ranks second with 21 percent and Lenovo comes in third with 14 percent followed by Apple. Over the next 12 months, organizations plan to increase their spending on Dell and HP PCs by 25 percent and 17 percent, respectively.