EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

A World-Wise View of E-Commerce: Q&A With Asknet CEO Michael Scheib

Consumers will spend US$237 billion on online purchases in the United States alone in 2010, Javelin Strategy & Research predicts. That’s almost 15 percent more than in 2009.

Online retail is also growing globally. MasterCard announced a global agreement with cross-border e-commerce shopping firm Borderlinx in August which lets MasterCard holders purchase products online from overseas, for instance.

Meanwhile, American businesses are eying overseas markets, where there is growth potential. Apple, for example, now gets over half its revenue from international sales.

However, American companies seeking to expand their online retail sites abroad have to deal with differences in culture, process, language and laws, not to mention converting currency into U.S. dollars.

The E-Commerce Times spoke with Michael Scheib, CEO of Asknet, which offers a global e-commerce platform, about the pitfalls American businesses face when trying to do e-commerce abroad.

The E-Commerce Times: Let’s talk about some of the difficulties of doing international business for U.S. companies.

Michael Scheib:

American companies trying to expand to Europe are finding that this is not like the U.S., where there are 50 different states but there’s cultural homogeneity. If you move from, say, Germany south into Italy, for example, the Italians don’t just speak a different language; their behavior is different. Then, in Spain, the people’s behavior is completely different from that of the Italians.

It starts with eating habits — people in the southern hemisphere of Europe don’t go to a restaurant before 9 p.m. so if you go to a restaurant in Spain for dinner at 8:30 p.m. you might get a table but the cook won’t show up before 9 p.m. Rush hour is around midnight, when people turn up with their whole family, including small children, so you wonder, when do they sleep?

The answer is, they sleep in the afternoons from about 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and they close their businesses down. Then they go back to work until 8 p.m. So if you want to sell them something, you start early in the morning and go until about 1:30 p.m., then between 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

If you go to France, it would be very impolite if someone invites you to drink a bottle of wine at lunch and you say you prefer water; you won’t make a sale to him. Two people drink one bottle for lunch, three people drink two bottles. Then they go back to work but do their emails, so don’t expect too good responses during this time.

ECT: Could a company upset its foreign distributors when it goes online? How can companies best deal with that?

Scheib:

Why are companies setting up originally in different countries? To localize software and deliver customer support and other support to their clients and prepare appropriate marketing material. For this purpose, their local distributors get a 40 to 50 percent resale discount. Now, if you go online suddenly, the distributors would earn less from this kind of business.

This means that any kind of software vendor, for example, needs to think deeply about converting his channel strategy into an online strategy. You can’t just set up an online store in France or Germany or anywhere else as a U.S.-based company and expect customers to flock in. You may be cannibalizing your channel, so don’t expect that the channel will contribute much to the future such as trying to expand your markets or handling complaints.

You must make sure that the channel is compensated accordingly. This is a rather big issue, and we offer business consulting to clients and help them resolve these business to business issues.

ECT: Are there any special government regulations U.S. businesses may need to know about when doing business online abroad?

Scheib:

“Generally no, except in some of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries.

For example, if you go into Brazil, you have to consider that it’s not easy to get money out of the country if customers are paying in the local currency and you don’t have your own subsidiary in Brazil.

In China, you have to consider issues with Google.

Generally speaking, in the main countries where commerce is rather well-known, there are tax implications you have to consider — in the U.S. there are different tax rates in different states, and this is very much relative to the B2B business.

You also have to consider that total buying habits are different. I think this is even more important than government regulations and laws.

Soft regulations are also more important than government laws. For example, you can’t have an English website or English shopping cart in a foreign country if you want to be successful. This is also the case for all of southern and eastern Europe, but it’s not so much an issue for Scandinavia where they speak good English.

ECT: What other points would you raise to U.S. companies seeking to do business online overseas?

Scheib:

Start with the language — shopping carts and websites should be localized. We help clients localize shopping carts in 38 languages, for example.

Next, even if you have a site 100 percent perfectly translated into another language, people abroad might still not be able to follow the workflow correctly, and that’s when they need a customer service number they can call where they can speak to someone in their own language. We offer customer services in 16 languages.

Also, and this is important for Internet sales, you must remember that an Internet shop is open 24 hours a day, and customer service should be available all day as well. Someone may want to shop at 2 a.m. and they may want to call for help.

Let’s continue. If you buy something online in North America you use your credit or debit card. In Germany, people prefer to have the money transferred from their bank account to the merchant, so you must consider that.

In Russia, they use mobile payment methods where they pay via their mobile service. In Japan, people pay for software in supermarkets, which give them an authorization number they input into their PCs to complete their transaction. In China, people go to fuel stations to buy software and get the authorization code. Fuel stations are everywhere in China, supermarkets are not.

We have set up 33 different globally accepted payment options and are working on more.

ECT: What advice would you give about formulating a global social media policy?

Scheib:

At the moment we have not had either a good or a bad experience with social media like Facebook. We have even looked into it; there’s a lot of discussions around software products in this space, but the companies we are working with have not been so far talked a lot about in the social media.

We have a lot of employees who use social media a lot and we noticed that they’re talking much more about themselves and their problems than B2B issues.

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Leapwork CEO: No-Code Platforms Democratize Testing Automation

DevOps

Using no-code technology instead of dedicated code programmers could become the future of software development in retail marketing and related software-building industries. But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution for all use cases.

No-code, an approach to creating software applications that require little in the way of programming skills, lets workers within a business create an application without formal programming knowledge or training in any particular programming language.

In a nutshell, no-code platforms enable users to create software applications such as online forms or even a fully functional website or add functionality to an existing site or app.

It is important to clarify that numerous different applications of no-code platforms exist, according to Christian Brink Frederiksen, CEO of Leapwork, a global provider of automation software.

No-code platforms are fairly new. So companies planning to adopt a no-code approach must thoroughly vet and test no-code tools on the market to make sure that the selected products live up to their claims.

“A lot of platforms out there today claim to be but are not truly no-code at all, or lack the power required to do what they say they’ll do without additional coding,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Leapwork developed a test automation product that is accessible and easy to maintain. Its secret sauce provides rapid results at a lower cost, requiring fewer specialist resources than traditional test automation approaches.

“At Leapwork, we have democratized automation with our completely visual, no-code test automation platform that makes it easy for testers and everyday business users to create, maintain, and scale automated software tests across any kind of technology,” noted Frederiksen. That enables enterprises to adopt and scale automation faster.

Security Remains Top Concern

An obvious inquiry about no-code platforms should consider how no-code technology addresses security problems that plague both proprietary and open-source programming.

If well designed, no-code platforms can be safe and secure, Frederiksen said. When manually coding from scratch, it is easy to introduce bugs and vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.

“Because the no-code platforms are designed to automate the creation of an app or perform a function in an automated way, they are inherently much more consistent,” he explained.

Of course, the no-code platform itself needs to be secure. Before choosing a solution, organizations should conduct a thorough security audit and opt for a solution that is ISO-27001 and SOC-2 compliant, he recommended.

Coding Pros and Non-Pros Alike

No-code platforms are not primarily just for programmers or for IT coders to use in-house in lieu of outsourced software developers. Both use cases come into play successfully.

No-code platforms are certainly useful for IT coders and programmers, but the primary value of a no-code test platform is to extend the capability to create and test applications to people who are not trained as software developers, offered Frederiksen.

For example, Leapwork makes it simple for testers and everyday business users to set up and maintain test automation at scale. This empowers quality assurance teams to experience shorter test cycles and immediate return on investment.

Advantages for DevOps

Speeding up testing is a huge benefit, noted Frederiksen, because hand-coding creates a big bottleneck, even for an experienced DevOps team. While testers are extremely skilled at designing tests and understanding the underlying complexity of software, they are not traditionally trained to code.

He offered a good example.

Claus Topholt, Leapwork’s co-founder and chief product officer, worked at an investment bank before joining Frederiksen to found Leapwork in 2015. Testing was vital because the bank depended on high-volume rapid trading. If software quality was poor, it could literally cause the institution to go bankrupt.

“Claus decided to build a simplified programming language to build tests so that the testers could set them up, speeding up the process. But he quickly discovered that testing and programming are totally different domains, and, frankly, it’s not fair to force testers, who are already highly skilled, to learn the extremely complicated skill of programming,” explained Frederiksen.

During a discussion with the testing team, Claus and his colleagues started to use a whiteboard to draw a flow chart. Everyone immediately understood what it meant.

Lesson Learned

The flow chart was such a simple, clear way of expressing something complicated. So, it was obvious this model was the way forward for enabling testers to create their own sophisticated tests without coding.

“The lesson was, if you give testers something as intuitive as a flow chart to create automated tests, you’ll save a lot of time and remove bottlenecks, as you’re not relying on the time and expertise of developers,” said Frederiksen.

Claus left the investment bank to found Leapwork and created what became a no-code platform. They built a visual language that enables business users to automate testing using a flowchart model.

Leapwork co-founders Claus Topholt and Christian Brink Frederiksen

Leapwork CPO and Co-Founder Claus Topholt (L) | Leapwork CEO and Co-Founder Christian Brink Frederiksen (Image Credit: Leapwork)


“It democratizes automation because it is so easy for non-coders to use and maintain, which in turn empowers businesses to scale their automation efforts and accelerate the development process,” Frederiksen said.

No-Code Q&A

Headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, last year Leapwork raised $62 million in the largest-ever Series B funding round in Danish history. The round was co-led by KKR and Salesforce Ventures.

Leapwork is used by Global 2000 companies — including NASA, Mercedes-Benz, and PayPal — for robotic process automation, test automation and application monitoring.

We asked Frederiksen to reveal more details about the inner workings of the no-code solution.

TechNewsWorld: How can companies add automation into their testing processes?

Christian Brink Frederiksen: One way is to incorporate automated tests as an integral part of moving from one stage of the release process to another.

For example, when a developer checks in code to the development server, a series of automated tests should be triggered as part of the same process that generates the build.

These regression tests can identify big bugs early, so the developer can fix them quickly, while the code is still fresh in the developer’s mind.

Then, as the code moves to test and, ultimately, production, again, a series of automated tests should be triggered: extensive regression testing, verification of its visual appearance, performance, and so on.

It is critical that business users — like a business analyst or a tester in a QA department — have the ability to implement this automation. That is where no-code is so vital.

How does no-code differ from low-code solutions?

Frederiksen: No-code truly involves no code at all. If you want non-developers to use the platform, then you need it to be no-code. Low code can speed up development, but you will still need someone with developer skills to use it.

Which is more beneficial for enterprise and DevOps, no-code or low-code?

Frederiksen: No-code empowers enterprises and DevOps teams to implement automation at scale, ultimately increasing software delivery performance. Low-code solutions still require you to know how to code in order to maintain software.

No-code allows anyone to automate workflows. Using no-code, developers and technically skilled workers can focus on high-value tasks, and QA professionals such as testers can automate and maintain testing quickly and easily.

Surveys have shown that testing is what slows down the development process the most. If you want to have a serious impact on DevOps, you should really consider using a no-code platform.

Does no-code pose a threat to software and website developers?

Frederiksen: I would argue quite the opposite. No-code has the potential to open up new opportunities for developers. More software is being built and customized than ever before, and yet we are in the midst of an acute developer shortage with 64% of companies experiencing a shortage of software engineers.

Rather than relying on code-based approaches and forcing businesses to search for talent externally, no-code allows companies to harness their existing resources to build and test software. Technical resources are then free to focus on more fulfilling, high-value work, such as accelerating innovation and digital transformation.

Where do you see no-code technology going?

Frederiksen: AI is a powerful technology, but its short-term impacts are slightly overhyped. We believe the challenge limiting the capabilities of artificial intelligence today is human-to-AI communication.

It should be possible to tell a computer what it is you want it to do without having to explain in any technical detail how to do it. Essentially, we need to be able to give an AI the requirements for a task, and then the AI can handle the rest.

We have made a lot of progress on this problem at Leapwork. There is a lot more work to be done.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Unresolved Conflicts Slow eSIM Upgrade Path to Better IoT Security

IoT internet of things

Misconceptions about embedded SIM cards (eSIMs) for IoT are keeping companies from adopting this new technology. That is detrimental, as eSIMs are crucial for patching and successful secure IoT deployment.

eSIMs are slowly replacing standard SIMs in IoT devices and products such as smartwatches. They are also making their way into the machine-to-machine world.

The rollout, however, is slowed by unresolved conflicts between competing technical standards and tightened restrictions on data management regulations globally. Despite the need for better IoT device security, clearing the adoption roadblocks is less than likely anytime soon.

Machine-to-machine, or M2M, is a broad label that can be used to describe any technology that enables networked devices to exchange information and perform actions without the manual assistance of humans.

Controversial Technology

Led mostly by the automotive and transportation industries, eSIMS also contribute to tracking functions in health care, smart mobility, utilities, and other sectors. But eSIM technology so far remains controversial, noted Noam Lando, CEO and co-founder of global connectivity provider Webbing.

Webbing provides an enterprise-grade solution for Fortune 500 and IoT/M2M companies, as well as an embedded solution for various manufacturers across the globe. The deployment is part of a phasing process to ensure a secured and continuous internet connection for all devices, no matter where they are in the world.

Lando said that “eSIM technology is a game-changer in telecom. It completely digitizes the cellular subscription provisioning process. As with any technology that is disruptive, there are a lot of debates and discussions around it to better understand its benefits, dispel misconceptions, and its impact on accelerating IoT use cases.”

Why all the Fuss?

We asked Lando to go below the circuit boards to reveal why eSIM technology is creating such an industry-wide furor.

TechNewsWorld: Is the technology upgrade to eSIMS worth the ongoing unrest?

Noam Lando: eSIM technology promises the establishment and maintenance of cost-effective connectivity that is accessible anywhere in the world regardless of where the device is manufactured or deployed as well as ultimate control. With the promise of eSIM technology, enterprises can scale their IoT deployments globally, reduce total ownership and business process management costs, and reduce time to market.

This creates great hype, especially when you have device makers such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google including eSIM as a standard feature in their new devices.

I sense a “BUT” here. Always there seems to be a BUT in the works. So what is the big BUT surrounding eSIM development?

Lando: However, when companies look deeper into implementing eSIM technology, they realize there are two standards: consumer and machine-to-machine (M2M). They are not sure which standard to use and often realize the implementation of eSIM technology is not as simple for their IoT devices as it is for smartphones, laptops, and tablets.

So, there are a lot of discussions around the two standards and their pros and cons, especially around M2M.

What are the drawbacks to standard SIMs?

Lando: For traditional SIM cards, carrier provisioning is done at the manufacturing level. They can host only one profile and are not reprogrammable. That is why you need a new SIM when switching cellular providers. This is not ideal for IoT deployments. Especially global ones.

Noam Lando, CEO and co-founder Webbing
Noam Lando, CEO at Webbing

Once the SIM has been implemented, you have vendor lock-in. With thousands and even millions of devices in an IoT deployment, it is impractical to change SIM cards when you want to change wireless carriers. It requires a site visit, and the card may be physically difficult to access.

In addition, issues surround complying with the global trend to enforce regulatory requirements on communication services and data management. These include restrictions on data leaving the country and global enterprises needing localized deployments with local wireless carriers.

This requires warehousing, managing, and deploying a number of wireless carrier-specific product SKUs which drive up production and logistics costs.

The attraction to eSIMs seems obvious. What are the main benefits?

Lando: eSIM technology offers a robust, scalable solution to the limitations of the traditional SIM. What makes an eSIM unique is the technological advancements made to the UICC, the software of the SIM, which is now called the eUICC.

That new technology follows a new standard developed by the GSMA. It is remotely programmable and reprogrammable, can host multiple cellular carrier subscriptions, and makes the selection, contracting, and onboarding of cellular providers easier with over-the-air (OTA) provisioning.

I sense another BUT in the works here. What are the unresolved issues with eSIM replacements?

Lando: Consumer and M2M are implemented differently. The consumer standard targets consumer devices like mobile phones, tablets and laptops, wearables, and other IoT devices with an end-user interactive environment. It is secure by design, can host multiple wireless carrier profiles, and facilitates carrier swaps. However, it is designed for private consumer use.

How suitable for other uses are eSIMs?

Lando: The M2M standard targets industrial M2M and IoT devices such as cars, water meters, trackers, smart factories, and other components used in an industrial, non-end-user interactive environment.

The M2M eSIM standard is also secure by design. It facilitates carrier migration and, in theory, offers remote centralized management and provisioning of carrier profiles. However, it isn’t as cut and dry as it seems.

That said, why is upgrading not so promising yet?

Lando: M2M eSIM implementation is cumbersome, time-intensive, and has long capital investment cycles. It requires collaboration between the enterprise, eSIM manufacturers, and the wireless carrier throughout the manufacturing process for implementation.

What are the biggest misconceptions about eSIMs for IoT?

Lando: The biggest misconception about eSIM for IoT is that the benefits it provides to consumer devices can be applied to IoT. Enterprises quickly realize they must implement a different standard for IoT/M2M, which requires an SM-DP (Subscription Manager – Data Preparation) and SM-SR (Subscription Manager – Secure Routing) to provision and remotely manage carrier subscriptions. The M2M standard is cumbersome, requiring a substantial investment of funds and time to orchestrate the implementation of wireless carriers.

Where do you see the battle between competing standards headed?

Lando: When looking at mobile data connectivity, there is no major difference between M2M and IoT device needs when it comes to Remote SIM Provisioning. If anything, the benefits of eSIM (eUICC) technology are greater for M2M devices since they usually have a longer life cycle, and the demand for changing a carrier at some point is high.

This could be for commercial or technical reasons. Therefore, M2M devices are also likely to get eSIMs instead of standard SIMs.

Developers favor eSIMs to solve IoT and embedded firmware patch issues. eSIM hardware and eUICC components are certified according to the GSMA’s Security Accreditation Scheme (SAS). This guarantees a very high level of security. Furthermore, cellular connectivity is secure by design: data is encrypted, and users are securely identified.

What are the most critical problems facing IoT and embedded technologies?

Lando: The most critical problem facing IoT deployments is carrier lock-in and dealing with different global regulatory requirements. In such cases, enterprises need local deployments and local wireless carriers. Enterprises with global deployment need the flexibility to change carriers easily and efficiently to meet local regulations.

Why are companies not proactively adopting eSIM technology?

Lando: From our experience, companies want the promise of eSIM technology, but the current ecosystem fails to provide it. The two eSIM standards disregard enterprises’ need to manage their fleet of devices.

On one hand, enterprise-based devices such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, scanners, and the like fall under the consumer standard. So companies don’t have full control over the installation and management of carrier profiles with centralized eSIM management. The consumer standard requires the end-user with the device in their hand to consent to install carrier profiles.

Meanwhile, the M2M standard for IoT deployments are cumbersome. They require a substantial investment of funds and time to orchestrate the implementation of wireless carriers.

It also limits customer choice due to a complicated implementation to switch between carriers.

This is part of the reason we developed WebbingCTRL, an eSIM, with a management platform, that can easily and remotely be configured as any wireless carrier’s profile, paving the way for the adoption of eSIM technology in the IoT space.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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