The rise of social searching
It is pretty obvious that going online is becoming the preferred option for finding information on products and services. Despite the global financial crisis, which has had a serious impact on general retail sales, the online retail sector continues to grow at a considerable rate, and the internet is taking over from telephone directories and print advertising when it comes to locating offline services, hotels, restaurants, and shops. If you need a plumber, it's increasingly likely that you'll turn to the computer first.
However, you may not turn to a traditional search engine. Over the last few years Google, Yahoo, and more recently Bing have served billions of search queries, but the internet is changing. Out of the three most popular sites on the internet (as reckoned by Alexa.com and more or less anyone else), two are based around the sharing of user generated content. Google.com is still the most used site on the internet but YouTube and Facebook are up there too.
The new internet is social. Instead of navigating a network of fairly less static sites full of information put up by webmasters, the new generation of internet user expects to be able to participate, to share photos and messages, to post content of their own, and view the contributions of other ordinary users- videos, pictures, reviews and opinions.
Instead of trusting Google to find you a nearby plumber in the local area, internet users are now becoming more inclined to tap into the social network of friends, colleagues, and like-minded individuals they trust.
When shopping for a particular product they expect to be able to read reviews or see how many friends the business has on Facebook. Before taking a job with a particular company, smart jobseekers check that company out on Twitter, and recruiting businesses check out the social media contributions made by applications in return.
Searches on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites are increasingly common. Exact figures for social searching are harder to pin down than those for regular search engines; it is known that Twitter served anything up to 19 billion searches per month in late 2009, when figures were reported by the parent company. At first glance that beats the traffic level of Bing and Yahoo combined (as of December 2009, those numbers were 9.4 billion for Yahoo and 4.1 billion for Bing).
It's not quite that simple - a larger proportion of Twitter searches are automated and not made by real people, for example, and there are no available figures for the number of tweeted inquiries and requests for recommendations. However, considering the strong growth in social media over the last couple of years, it's safe to say that this kind of searching is becoming a real force and a real asset for those who figure out how to use it to their advantage.
There are plenty of different ways to do that. A practice as simple as monitoring Twitter traffic for inquiries relating to a certain field can be a very good way to find new customers. Replying also establishes authority and expertise, so those who use Twitter to search rather than ask for recommendations will see the company name come up.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”