Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mobile Integration

It wasn’t that long ago that UX & CX where secondary considerations for applications. Now that the sexy stuff is well and truly at the forefront of mobile applications, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the most complex (and not sexy) parts of mobile application development: the integration!

The vast majority of mobile applications that you use day to day have some form of integration / interfacing to an external system. When you think about it even the simplest of games on IOS and Android are connected to a scoring system or to in-app purchases. Your social networking apps are connected to vast databases of data and selfies! The good news is that as mobile and web frameworks have matured so has the approach to integration. Most applications now have a service library that is abstracted from the user interface and functional logic. This means that many integration tasks are pre-existing and can be leveraged with minimal new development effort.

No need to fear the integration layer, just apply appropriate governance and resources to this area to ensure success. Depending on the scope, tools and standards you adopt on your project there will be many specific considerations for interface design. Additionally there are many sources (books, peer groups, forums) of general information that is well worth investigating.

Once you understand your scope and associated interfaces at a high level you can broadly group them, for example into the following categories:
  • Outbound Interfaces (data travels from the back-end system to the mobile application)
  • Inbound Interfaces (data travels from the mobile application to the back-end system)
  • Cross Application Interfaces (data travels between two or more mobile applications)
  • UI/Service Interfaces (data travels between the UI layer on the device and the service layer on the device)
Consider the differences between interfaces for different types of data. Transactional interfaces where for example a new order is created. Master data interfaces where for example customer phone number changes. Reference data interfaces where values for configuration or a drop down menu need to be maintained.

Additionally the nature of mobile applications brings some unique challenges when it comes to integration:
  • Communications are not reliable
  • CPU is less than desktop
  • Dynamic and storage memory is less than desktops
  • Offline versus Online
  • Data synchronisation
  • Data residency & Housekeeping
  • Security & Encryption 
With a desktop application you can normally assume a relatively good connection experience. With a mobile application, design will need to consider a less than constant connection. There are a number of strategies adopted to handle this and these decisions will influence the interfacing approach. Tightly coupled with this communications challenge is the data synchronisation strategy (which is often different for each data type). For example reference data that doesn’t change often could perhaps be pushed to the mobile applications when the data changes. However data that is needed on demand (such as availability of inventory) could be pulled by the mobile application when required. The cycle of data update via interfaces needs to be considered. Mobile solutions are sometimes one of many channels that will be involved in a given data object. For example if customer details can be maintained in a mobile application and in a desktop GUI how are conflicts to be treated. This is especially critical in offline style applications.

For each in-scope interface it’s important to document key design information. At a high level each interface specification should contain:
  • The data schema – what data fields are being shared between applications, what fields are keys and mandatory
  • The trigger – what makes the interface fire, is it user fired or scheduled.
  • Logic associated with the fields
  • Is the interface synchronous or asynchronous – does it wait for a response
  • What is the error handling logic
  • What is the frequency
  • Security & authentication 
Rest assured that integration for mobile applications will continue to improve and that simply applying an appropriate strategy early in your project cycle will enable the sexy parts of your mobile applications to play seamlessly with all their connected parts. This article is partly extracted from the book “Enterprise Mobile Tips and Tricks”. For more information regarding all facets of mobile application projects download it now for free.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Reacting Agile

Apple's continuous release cycles have become part of the consumer consciousness. Since the 1920's, and the auto industry implementation of planned obsolescence, the product cycle has been revolving ever faster. These days driven by fanaticism and features rather than deliberate sabotage of older versions the consumer phone market continues to release new models of hardware and software every few months. While this ongoing cycle is a proven part of Apple's success it is increasingly forcing other organisations to be more agile in their approach to application management.

Now that more companies are relying on mobile applications to interact with their staff and customers they have no choice but to jump onto the continuous upgrade bandwagon. At very least they need to ensure that their application will continue to work, and for many sectors it’s important to leverage new features and functions as they evolve. Having worked for many different organisations I have seen large companies that are nimble and small companies that are over governed. Generally speaking however the larger the company the more likely there will be a lack of agility. After all a large company is beholden to shareholders, it has invested in process maturity, and does not rely on cowboy style decision making.

How can you tell if there is a problem? For mobile application development, if you cannot keep up with Apple (also a very large organisation) then something is wrong. Because if your well-meaning process ensures that it will take you longer than 6 months to release a new application then by the time you release it will be out of date again.

When thinking about mobile applications in isolation it’s easy to think that they are already being handled in an agile way. However B2E, B2B, and complex B2C mobile applications have integration to back-end systems. This integration layer and god forbid if any changes are required to back-end systems, is where the agility fades. Additionally for many large organisations it’s not necessarily the systems lacking agility but often the governance processes that are stifling. Some of the reasons large organisations are not agile include:

  • Empowerment of decision makers 
  • Compartmentalising 
  • Lost IP 
  • Lack of focus on innovation and R&D 
  • Focus on risk 
  • Focus on architectural purity 
  • ROI timescale

For example if your ROI is calculated over a 5 year period but your mobile application is only relevant for 12 months then there is potentially a mismatch. How about some controversial ideas:
  • Don't build the best solution; build the quickest to market solution!
  • Don't build a fully scalable architecture build a throw away architecture!
  • Don't build a scalable solution build a point solution!
  • Don't build a big team and management structure build small cell like teams
Realistically many organisations are now moving towards a framework enabling continuous development cycles, and/or running multiple small projects in parallel. An initial investment in a repeatable process and appropriate architecture lays the foundation for more agility and an increased speed to market. When it comes to the mobile application lifecycle consider what is really important to these solutions:
  • Meets user expectations? 
  • Stability? 
  • Supportability? 
  • Appropriately scalable? 
  • Lasts a year or 2? 
The continuous release cycles from consumer mobile companies like Samsung and Apple is driving innovation and demand for the latest in hardware and software. In response the term “agility” is often thrown around however it means many things to many people. It's now quite common to use an agile methodology when creating mobile applications and websites. The development of user interface driven applications achieves fantastic results when a team is able to iterate and/or leverage prototyping tools. The ability to release the latest mobile applications is often hampered by the lack of agility across an entire organisation.

There are many inspirational stories of great results where a relatively minor investment has enabled small innovative teams to succeed or fail. The trick for large companies is to leverage the benefits of this model while balancing risk and reward.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wallet Wars

Mobile wallets continue to be a hot topic and now the latest round of rumours has Apple, Facebook, Visa, MasterCard, and others set to leverage their global footprint to control our wallets into the future. While the battle grounds are drawn in the mobile wallet wars perhaps it’s time for the rest of us to have a recap covering the basics of mobile wallets where they have come from and where they are going. This brief article will try to cover the what, how, why, and who of mobile wallets.

What is a mobile wallet?
Mobile wallets mean many things to many people and can cover a variety of use-cases and feature sets. Take a second to think about what is in your wallet. You probably have credit cards, store cards, loyalty cards, vouchers, cash, and identification. In fact most of these features have been considered and are already included by one solution or another. In addition Mobile Wallets commonly target:
  • Gift cards
  • Alternate payment methods (PayPal, Bit coins, store credit)
  • Advertising
  • Event tickets
  • Boarding passes
  • Unbanked / Branchless Banking
  • Account Top-Up 
How do mobile wallets work?
Mobile wallets can act as a replacement for one or all of the features described above. Typically this is done by storing a secure electronic copy of the physical cards that they replace. For example, rather than carry physical loyalty cards have a software application store your unique id and points balance. Technically this can be achieved a number of ways:
  • Store the secure information directly in the application (locally on the device)
  • Store the secure information in the cloud and relay access when required.
At the point of sale use your mobile wallet (often an application on a mobile phone) rather than the physical card. Technically this can be achieved a number of ways:
  • Bar Code (The application displays a bar code on screen that is read by the store’s bar code scanner)
  • NFC (Near Field Communication is becoming increasingly popular)
  • SMS (Favoured on older mobile phones) 
Why have mobile wallets?
Convenience is often touted as the primary reason. How much easier would life be if you didn’t need to carry a fat wallet around with lots of cards in it? Most people are already carrying around a smart phone anyway so wouldn’t it be simpler to just be able to identify and pay with your phone? Of course there are some other great reasons for the vendors and suppliers of mobile wallets including:
  • Reduced costs (physical cards, new channels of payment)
  • Increasing customer base (such as emerging markets or unbanked)
  • Advertising
  • Loyalty
  • Big Data & Analytics
Currently when you purchase something by credit card the payment passes through a number of hands and this process typically incurs some costs. Mobile payments enable new channels for payment that could be for example direct between the consumer, merchant, and bank and bypass the card companies and the acquirer.

Why haven’t mobile wallets already taken over?
Let’s face it; wallets have been used for thousands of years. They are already “mobile” they are already pretty “convenient” and they handle cash, coins, government identification, etc. People are used to them and will therefore need the mobile wallet equivalent to be more than equally convenient. Additionally challenges include:

  • Completeness of features (mobile wallets offer some but not all features in one product, leading to the need for multiple wallets)
  • Regulations & Standards (different countries, banks, vendors, security)
  • Perception , Change & Uptake (A critical mass of support by vendors and consumers)

In Australia NFC has really taken off and most point of sale locations now offer contactless payment from credit cards. Some banks are already providing NFC based mobile applications. However NFC is certainly not popular in all geographies. Additionally for many countries POS systems are not ubiquitous and cash and cheques are still the primary method of payment.

With mobile wallets and associated payments opening the gate to bypass traditional players in the market there is also some obvious resistance to change.

Who is providing mobile wallets?
There are a plethora of providers for mobile wallet / payment solutions. These include:

  • Financial Institutions
  • Card Companies & Payment Brokers
  • Phone & Hardware manufacturers (e.g. Coin
  • Telecommunications Providers
  • Software Companies
  • Merchants

As the associated technology has matured, providers of mobile wallet solutions have targeted their own customer base with features that add value to them and their customers. Now mobile wallets are already providing functionality to many people around the world. When it comes to mobile wallets what the world needs now (other than love sweet love) is a mobile wallet that allows more convenience and acceptance than the existing leather “mobile” wallet.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sticky Not Tricky

In many recent technology success stories a key component is the “stickiness factor”. These super sticky websites and applications grew their user base virally and exponentially. If you haven’t caught on yet don’t worry the concept itself isn’t tricky. In this context sticky describes when users stay longer, and keep returning to use software. In the case of the web, the browser’s homepage (and to a lesser degree favourites) helps a site to be sticky. Increasingly however mobile applications with their installation process, accessibility, and features, have better opportunities to be sticky.

Most people think of stickiness as purely for consumer facing applications. Enterprise applications can make use of sticky techniques to increase usage and drive employee behaviours. The carrot and stick need to be appropriately considered depending on your relationship with your users, organisational culture, and appetite for risk. For example you don’t want to drive the wrong behaviour in your employees by encouraging them to play with their phone rather than doing their job.

So what features make an application sticky? Gamification techniques are often favoured. Some examples of these include achievements, point scoring, leader boards, time/daily based challenges, and obsolescence. (For further information on gamification please refer to the article “Enterprise Gamification is it a thing?”). Additionally providing time sensitive information such as news updates, enabling chat features, and importantly social networking techniques can encourage users to return to your application. Along with the social and gamification possibilities to be truly sticky the application must be usable and as simple as practical.

Why worry about sticky? Stickiness is a key contributing factor to user uptake. Gone are the days of build it and they will come, with user expectations continuing to increase. Let’s face it you want users to be excited and motivated to use your mobile application. Consider marketing and messaging reinforcement, every page view and every second that a user is interacting with you impacts brand loyalty and provides additional opportunities. Leverage your crowd. No matter if you have millions or just hundreds of users. Can you consider a way that you can help them to help you?

Sticky Concepts for Enterprise Mobility
Consider the KPIs that you are driving and factoring these via sticky/gamification techniques into mobile applications. For example imagine a service organisation with a mobile application to capture work events. This organisation is keen for each employee to capture customer success stories. You could simply add a survey to the application; however it might be much more effective to enable your employee to capture a video of the customer’s reaction to their service. Allow employees to reach their KPI in an interactive way and reward the best videos with extra recognition.

Different types of business may be able to offer specific features that make their applications stickier. For example in the financial sector some examples could include:
  • Providing an application feature like balance without log-in could encourage users to keep an app running and refer back to it more often. 
  • Goal tracking for personal finances is a logical way to provide added value that keeps users returning to track their progress.
  • Providing up-to date stock or currency conversion information
In a supply chain business some examples could include:
  • Providing top performer lists and associate rewards
  • Setting real-time watch lists for key events and/or status of key orders or incidents
  • Adding features like online chat for service. 

Sales and Call-centre/help-desk business process have clear targets and readily available statistics that can leverage gamification techniques. If your organisational culture has a competitive streak then adding gamification features like a scoreboard can provide a real talking point. Perhaps the top 5 sales people could be shown in an easily accessible way. In addition adding social type interactions such as “liking” or “sharing” key events can drive stickiness.

For enterprise mobile applications (regardless of whether they are B2E, B2B, or B2C) a user base that is motivated to engage is important to success. Don’t rush in but carefully consider your goals and the culture, along with appropriate techniques and rewards in formulating a useful sticky mobile application.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kicking-off Your Enterprise Mobility Project

The following is an extract from the book "Enterprise Mobile Tips and Tricks"

The requirements are done, the vendor is selected, and the project kicks off. Once you’ve gone through the RFP process, secured funding, and selected a solution and/or vendor for the mobile enterprise project, you’re ready to get started right? Not quite, there’s still one more step, and that’s to get everyone on the same page.

This is easier said than done as you’ll need to involve both internal, and often external, experts covering areas such as:
  • Business knowledge
  • Backend/existing systems
  • Network communications
  • Infrastructure/Server teams
  • Security, fraud, risk teams
  • Standard Operating Environment
  • Telecommunication providers
  • Device/hardware providers
  • Software vendors
  • Service providers

Multi party integration and communications can make things quite a bit more complex, so it may be best to err on the side of over-communication. In many organisations in this situation they utilise a service provider to herd all the cats. A thorough stakeholder analysis, asking questions and clearly defining requirements and expectations will make for a smoother and faster project.

To begin the ramp up process, both internal and external teams need to start joint preparation for the project kick off. When preparing to dive into the project, each organization is different, so assume nothing. Variables and needs should be covered-off and agreed upon before moving forward. It doesn’t need to take a great deal of time or cost to cover these (can be done via a meeting or conference call or even sent as a document), and it’s imperative for an efficient and well-managed project.

Project Initiation
A couple of key areas of importance in these complex projects are:

The nature of the project and availability of resources could dictate a formal hand-over or informal sessions. Ideally by this stage, along with the client’s RFP or RFQ document, there is a formal response from the sales team to the customer. Consider the size and nature of the project and ensure to schedule an appropriate amount of time between sales and delivery to fully understand the expectations.
While not always possible, ideally all three parties (customer, vendor sales, and delivery services) are involved in this hand-over process. If there are issues or misunderstandings between the involved parties, be sure to mitigate appropriately.

Customers and vendors may very well differ in their project management methodology. A preferred project methodology may not have been designed with mobile projects in mind. Even the decisions on tailoring and agility will have a big downstream impact. So it’s important that all parties are clear on the methodology for the duration of the project. While this can be a challenge, it ensures everyone is going in the same direction at the same speed and measuring against the same benchmarks.

Deliverables & Templates
Like any good project set expectations, clearly define RACI elements; understand timelines, communications mechanisms, roles and responsibilities. A pointer here is to ensure that your deliverables and associated templates are suitable for a mobile project. For example your Design/Blueprint document will need considerations for Screen Flow, Use Cases, Usability Experience, and Integration.
By their nature a mobile project often involves multiple vendors. One vendor might supply the underlying software technology, another providing User Experience, others responsible for integration, and yet another providing hardware.

Prototyping and/or a Proof of concept
Enterprise mobile projects involve technology that is emerging and changing rapidly. Due to this the stakeholders and decision makers cannot be experts across all the technology and possible options. For this reason, along with the need to visualise User Experience options, enterprise mobile projects will benefit greatly from prototyping. Within an enterprise mobile project it can be difficult to get the best value out of a traditional ‘blueprint everything up front’ approach.
Along with not understanding potential pitfalls it would be easy to miss out on leveraging all the possibilities of the new/emerging technology. Some projects may be able to leverage the build tools for prototyping purposes (or just mock-up examples in a drawing program). Utilising tools that are not fit for purpose can be problematic. The installation, environment, setup, training and, accessibility of build tools may make them difficult to leverage.
With a mobility related project some of the true “right once deploy many” MEAP options will let you pull off a prototyping approach. However not all projects, build tools, and even MEAPs offer great prototyping features. Even when all the stars align can you effectively gather feedback from your audience?
Depending on the size of your project and or the vendors involved it may be worth considering a fit for purpose prototyping product. These products enable rapid prototyping on device (or emulator) along with useful feedback mechanisms. While of course there is an associated cost with using these products it may save you money in the long run.

When to use
The adage about spending more time on design and less on build rings true. With prototyping tools the focus can be on design without needing to spend so much time. These types of tools can be leveraged in various project phases for example:
  • Part of RFP/RFQ process to build a mock-up that can be quoted on.
  • During the design/blueprint phase to finalise an agreed functional design.
  • Throughout the build phase to prototype traditional blueprint/designs.
  • Ongoing in support/run phases to formalise change requests
Download the full book "Enterprise Mobile Tips and Tricks"

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Product versus Custom in a Digital World

When contemplating this topic I kept considering an alternate title 'risk versus reward in a Digital World'. Certainly in the Cloud era it's increasingly unpopular to tout customised, coded solutions. And rightly so as for many business processes and associated systems there is a long standing maturity. Consider a few well known examples:
  • Human Resources
  • Customer Relationship Management
  • Purchase to Pay 
Additionally with a lot of well-known Back Office internal facing processes like Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, and Customer Service (to name a few). These dependable workhorses are often put out to pasture in offshore fields.

I'm certainly not going to suggest that standardisation is a bad thing for business. Repeatable, measurable process is a key to efficiency. Likewise however innovation is a cornerstone to competitiveness. Unfortunately it's much easier to produce a clear business case for standardisation than it is for innovation. This might drive many organisations seeking to compete on price to reduce costs and forget the importance of innovation. Seen as a risk mitigation strategy, generally it's politically popular to promote a buy not build mantra for IT projects.

When contemplating digital, mobile, and consumer facing solutions the expectation is increasingly bleeding edge. This of course is at loggerheads with the “buy not build” message. None the less a certain degree of differentiation can be achieved by branding and with advances in user centric design. When it comes to enterprise and distributed solutions the challenge is that the entire stack needs to support the demands of the requirement/s.

Here's a rather simplistic look at some of the high level strategies and associated pros and cons:

Buy not build
  • Fit for purpose: low
  • Cost: low
  • Support-ability: high
  • Innovation enabler: low 
Platform technology
  • Fit for purpose: med
  • Cost: med
  • Support-ability: med
  • Innovation enabler: med 
Custom build
  • Fit for purpose: high
  • Cost: high
  • Support-ability: low
  • Innovation enabler: high 

Of course there are methods and sub strategies to mitigate all of the cons of every path. Many COTS packages allow a large degree of configuration. Many platforms come with accelerators or pre-packaged examples. Custom build can be successfully implemented with good process.

A couple of popular mitigations to enable innovation when selecting COTS packages include:
  • Selecting an innovative and/or collaborative vendor
  • Introducing an empowered innovation or process improvement team. 

So how does one choose a particular strategy and mitigate the risks that come with it. If you've ever read my blogs before you know I'm going to bang on about the requirements. Understanding and documenting the requirements will enable selecting an appropriate strategy. These should include broader considerations than just single project’s needs. Think architectural standards, existing assets, ability to execute, and appropriate risk assessments.

When the requirements are not core to differentiation, and there is a good fitting (meets your strategy, standards, business needs) COTS package available it makes sense to buy it. When the requirements are targeting differentiation there will likely be no COTS package that cuts the mustard. The middle road of leveraging a platform can help split the difference.

On the surface a custom built solution may initially seem cheaper. But ensure to compare apples with apples. In reality, for most integrated complex applications, custom built will cost more than buying a prebuilt solution. A popular approach to mitigate the cost is to find the cheapest developers and/or offshore party. This is often successful for well specified, non-integrated and fairly simple applications.

As mentioned in Enterprise Mobile Tips and Tricks an Enterprise Mobile project is unique in its complexity. Combine this with innovation and chances are you will be writing custom code. Digital applications are commonly becoming throwaway items with an ever decreasing shelf life. Components of the digital application are expected to be regularly replaced and enhanced. Therefore for these applications this extra element must be considered when balancing cost, quality, and timeframe.

For digital enterprise mobility ongoing change is the standard. To enable this ongoing flexibility on a complex distributed system requires more than just a series of independent software components and associated business cases and projects. To be successful a planned foundation needs to be laid. The foundation in this case should include a vision of how the ongoing change goals are going to be met along with processes, tools, and appropriate resources. More than just the standard project management there are some key aspects that can assist to ensure ongoing cost effective success:
  • Architectural guidance
  • Documentation & Trace-ability approach
  • Development, Testing & Release management approach
  • Skills (& Vendor) management
  • Ongoing Research & Development 
In human terms the ideal enterprise mobile application is a mix of looks, brains, and personality – perhaps a combination of high profile celebrity, Olympic athlete, and Nobel Prize winner. Digital Enterprise Mobile Projects are expected to have the best of all worlds. A great user experience, bleeding edge features, robust, high performance, seamless integration to complex back end system, and all for a low cost.

In the digital world innovative differentiation when done correctly is a key to success.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Enterprise Reality

For many people their first experience of a virtual world was at the computer game arcade. Thanks to Google Glass, Facebook's purchase of Oculus Rift, and ever increasing computing power. Augmented, Virtual, and various forms of Mixed Reality are finding a niche in the enterprise. Increasingly for visualisation and use cases where it's 'handy' to be hands free. Displaying and accessing information may make sense via a Virtual or Augmented channel.

Briefly to make some distinctions: Virtual (computer generated), Augmented (computer assisted), and Mixed Reality (anything in between) enable the user to experience and access information that is beyond what their senses can naturally obtain. For example is completely computer generated and considered Virtual, whereas augments reality by overlaying contextual data onto video in real-time.

So if this still sounds all like games and gimmicks how can virtual reality be used effectively in Enterprise? It already is... Consider the following examples:
  • Military Applications (Training and simulations such as flight, parachute, and combat along with Heads Up and Head Mounted Displays for various scenarios e.g. BARS)
  • Design (Computer Aided Design e.g. VRDL)
  • Retail (Try before you buy applications e.g. Ray-Ban and a great augmented pixel article)
  • Medical Applications (Remote presence, 3d imaging refer this medical blog)
  • Education & Training (e.g. Mining training)
  • Real-estate (Virtual tours, walk-through)
  • Asset Management

In addition advertising agencies are using Augmented Reality to bring wow factor and interaction to a variety of brands and products with interesting interactive campaigns aimed at the tech savvy generation.

Key factors when it comes to Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality are the real-time nature and visualisation of information. Additionally depending on the implementation these solutions often contain characteristics such as: immersion, remote or telepresence, private or social interactions, gamification, and hands free operation. And while mostly obvious, the benefits to the use of these technologies come from increased efficiency, safety, customer loyalty and engagement along with a reduction in costs, manual handling, and errors.

Mobile computing and Virtual reality share some common enabling technologies. Looking back at early Virtual Reality is like reminiscing about old Motorola mobile phones. Both used to be chunky, had only basic user interfaces, and simple display ability. Underlying both of course are advancements in hardware and software. For more details refer to my article on the history of mobile computing. So why then is all this “un-reality” not ubiquitous like mobile phones?

A couple of key factors should be considered. Firstly while technology has advanced to a stage where phones can now act as full mobile computing devices the tech curve is still on the rise when it comes to Augmented and Virtual reality. Secondly, mobile computing by its nature has a wide scope of viable use cases. Many would argue that mobile computing is replacing desktop computing, whereas Augmented and Virtual reality only enable consumption of information in a different way.

So is all this un-reality only for high end computers with dedicated hardware? Thankfully mobile phone technology has reached the level where it can support Augmented Reality. In some ways it is currently the perfect technological platform. With a combination of ready availability, processor power, camera, GPS, connectivity, and display. A modern mobile phone is being used as a virtual platform. Obviously it is still early days with the potential of Augmented and Virtual reality continuing to improve in direct relation to advancements in software and hardware price and performance.

Augmentation applications on iOS and Android are gaining popularity and include a variety of useful and fun features such as product visualisations (e.g. Augment), Translations (e.g. Word Lens), Search (e.g. Google Goggles), Compass (e.g. Play Aid) and many more. While these applications are useful in their own right the good news is that additionally they are all paving the way for further refined use of the technology for real benefits.

So will Virtual Reality now explode into the Enterprise? My guess is probably not. This technology is not necessarily (or perhaps just not currently) sensible for all scenarios. Additionally there can be downsides such as privacy concerns, information overload/filtering, and even motion sickness. Perhaps further advancements in display and user input such as holographic, mind machine interfaces, implants, or contact lenses will enable a more ubiquitous reach for these technologies.

For industries and scenarios discussed that are already using the technologies many where early adopters. This is certainly the case for design based industries such as industrial and automotive. There is now some encroachment for certain products with the influx of 3d printing. However a Virtual world allows for a more immersive experience (take for example a concept vehicle). Additionally aeronautical and military applications such as flight simulations are some of the earliest examples of Virtual Technology. For these types of industries/scenarios the Virtual style technology is only going to improve. But for the vast majority of business computer use a Tron style environment is not likely to be productive! From time to time we've all met or worked with someone that seemed to be operating in their own reality. With continued large technology investments becoming commonplace, it won’t be long before the next great advancements in the Mobile Computing, Augmented, and Virtual Reality. This could really change the meaning of “operating in their own reality”. I can only imagine that with Google not grabbing Oculus and with Augmented Reality contact lenses already in production it must be about time for the Google “HoloDeck” announcement. Please count me in as a “Holo-explorer”!

This article was originally published on Enterprise Mobility Network

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Internet of Our Things

There is a lot of talk and statistics around about the internet of things (IOT) and the amazing number of connected devices. But the real questions are: how can these connections be leveraged and where is the benefit? Is the internet of things another marketing buzz-word like big data or cloud?

A quick recap in case you have been living in a cave with a dial-up modem. What is IOT? Everyone seems pretty clear on what the internet is these days. However the thing (pun intended) that confuses a lot of people is what are the things? Generally speaking these things:

·         Capture (e.g. video, audio, temperature, heart rate, location, etc.)
·         Process (e.g. ETL, editing, controlling, analysis, etc.)
·         Store (e.g. historians, NAS, cloud, etc.)
·         Distribute (e.g. visual-display, loud-speakers, network components, etc.)

In other words web cameras, televisions, hard drives, routers, tablets, computers (and yes mobile phones) are all common examples of connected devices. Increasingly manufacturers are “connecting” every other type of thing they can think of. Some examples include air conditioners, refrigerators, cars, and biometric equipment to name just a few. Don’t forget the wearables, jury is still out on their uptake, they are certainly adding more ‘things’ to the internet.

So is the internet of things a simple equation? Where IOT = ‘things’ + internet. This is of course one definition. For me it’s not about the number of connected devices but instead beneficial use cases that leverage multiple connected devices. The trick of course is the beneficial part. So for example, if your television determines your favourite shows by reviewing your credit card and browser history, downloads these shows automatically, and when you get home turns itself on and shows you its handy-work. Is this of benefit? Likewise is it actually useful for your coffee machine to know what TV show you are watching? If you are like me many of my appliances are not left plugged in but instead go back in a cupboard when unused.

Historically the IOT topic has been one for business. For decades industry, with PLC and other sensors, has used connected devices to great benefit. In areas such as Manufacturing, FMCG, Mining, and Pharmaceuticals data gathered from machinery has reduced manual effort and increased yields. However connecting one or more devices to gather data or control remotely is the thin edge of IOT. In the home an early example of similar technology can be seen in the home stereo market. Manufacturers understood the benefit of allowing consumers to connect different components together for the purposes of control and content sharing. Now many more industries are leveraging the benefits of the IOT. Areas such as:
·         Medical
·         Sports Science
·         Finance
·         Military & Law Enforcement
·         Automotive
·         Entertainment

These industries and many more are innovating, checking feasibility, and finding benefits in a variety of use cases including Biometrics, Remote Monitoring, Connected & Targeted Sales, Marketing, and Advertising. With the changing times and evolving technologies come many more possibilities. This can be considered a double edged sword for the enterprise sector. While consumer spend drives rapid innovation and competition. It doesn’t focus on areas important to most organisations (for example standards, stability, support, and security).

One of the last remaining barriers to getting the most out of IOT is of course common agreed standards. Much work is occurring in this area however there is still more to do. It wouldn’t be surprising if this becomes a tech battleground like BETA versus VHS or Blue-Ray versus HD-DVD. Giant companies that manufacture many different consumer products have been able to keep to their own standards. However this is not much more than an extension of the old home stereo example (where each company used proprietary cabling and messaging). To make the most of the possibilities of the IOT requires that the 'things' used in a solution are able to communicate effectively. Usually for cost /benefit reasons when a solution is implemented it is only focused on its own specific outcomes. For IOT to accelerate organisations need to think longer term and broader than just an individual product or project. The good news is that some companies are beginning to team up to produce standards.

Speaking of good news there are some great success stories when it comes to IOT. One that always springs to mind was the SETI project. While I’m not sure it actually found any extra-terrestrial intelligence it did spark innovation and collaboration across the world. Along with WIFI, and more recently NFC, another great success has been Bluetooth. From its introduction the Bluetooth earpiece often lead to awkward social situations! In the early days of Bluetooth many experienced the unfortunate one sided elevator conversation. However Bluetooth has allowed conversations to take place hands free while driving or when just out and about. It really has been successful in severing the cord that connected phones to other devices. Bluetooth relatively short distance standard allows file sharing and proximity based services between trusted (or untrusted) partners. And judging by the amount of consumer devices available Bluetooth is increasingly used between mobile phones and a variety of other peripheral devices (headphones, speakers, car hands free, and network sharing, etc.)

What has this IOT got to do with mobility anyway? Since their arrival in the 80's mobile phones have continued to increase in capability and popularity. Now reaching saturation point in many markets they are much more than just a device for making calls. Mobile phones are a very personal item, increasingly used more than any other personal possession. Modern phone capabilities cover all aspects of the 'things' in the internet of things.  Mobile Phones:
·         Capture (photos and videos of loved ones.)
·         Process (editing, computing, controlling)
·         Store (every model has greater capacity)
·         Distribute (view, listen, and share)

As you can see mobile phones are an enabling IOT technology. With their wide variety of increasing capabilities including proximity and geo-location the use cases are endless. As technology evolves so does society and acceptable social norms. A while back bulletin boards where used by a relatively small group of early adopters. As the internet proliferated IRC chat became a popular communication tool. This was followed by instant messaging and social networks which combine the features of the past with new easily accessible features. In the future will IOT innovation bring biometric social networking? 

This article was originally published at Enterprise Mobility Network

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Resourcing Enterprise Mobility

For many organisations, and increasingly for the recruiting agencies that support them, understanding Enterprise Mobility is becoming a key focus. While Enterprise Mobility is not new, it has traditionally been the realm of specialist providers. Over many years hardware manufacturers have supplemented their sales by providing consulting services or value added software to businesses. Additionally solution integrators and niche mobile companies have provided solutions for industry. Early adopters and in particular certain industries (such as logistics and asset management) have been using enterprise mobility for many years. Often these companies have developed in-house skills through projects and support.

As the industry matures there is a shift away from point solutions. Many businesses have adopted a corporate mobile strategy with multiple mobile applications. The term “consumerisation” is often used to describe the proliferation of smart phones and app stores driving demand and innovation back into the business arena. Of course this is a double edged sword with Enterprise Mobility continuing to experience rapid change with hardware, operating systems, and applications evolving rapidly.

What is Enterprise Mobility and what are the Key Skills?

Enterprise mobility is often defined as mobile application/s with integration to back-end business systems. With this as the baseline then to resource effectively it’s useful to know the key components of Enterprise Mobility. These include:

· User Experience

· Graphic & Screen Design

· Mobile Data, Application and Service Layer

· Mobile Device Hardware & Peripherals

· Integration Layer

· Back End System/s

Along with any technology implementation there are key streams that support the project. While these are “generic” in nature there are many peculiarities when it comes to a mobile project and it’s useful to have experienced resources to cover these areas. Examples include:

· Business Process Management

· Test Management

· Architecture & Infrastructure Management

· Release & Code Management

· Security

Key Resourcing Challenges

Given the Enterprise Mobile landscape evolution it’s easy to see that the goal-posts are moving. Experience on mobile projects is sort after but not always easy to find. With mobile technology changing quickly and increasing pressure on enterprises to have an up-to-date mobile presence there is a resource supply/demand problem. The following points are some key challenges that should be considered:

· For recruiters to be effective it’s useful to have a breakdown of the technical components and/or architecture in use. In the changing landscape there are many mergers and acquisitions so it’s not uncommon to find a vendor solution made up of disparate components.

· Along with the technology challenges an additional complexity often overlooked is geography. At a given point in time each geographic region may have different consumer trends, technologies, manufacturers, and standards. This can add to the difficulties when attempting to source key resources.

· Another key challenge is the variety of technology used in the mobile landscape. Take development skills as an example. For some projects .Net is required and in others it will be Java, HTML5, CSS, JSP, or Objective C (to name a few). Increasingly with mobile platform use becoming more popular it may be necessary to have skills in a vendor specific toolkit. For some organisations they may need skills in all the listed examples!

· For Solution Integrators and other companies with a skilled resource pool keeping them up-to-date on changing technology is complicated. Investing in sensible training is important for any organisation, however deciding on which technology to target requires a crystal ball.

· When it comes to mobile applications most people focus on the developer skill-sets, however understanding the intricacies of mobility as it impacts methodology, testing, quality assurance, and architecture are equally important to the success of any mobile project.

Resourcing Strategies

Finding great resources for Enterprise Mobility is certainly not all doom and gloom. Often while underlying technologies are changing much of the skills are transferable. This approach is commonly used in the development space where in-house skills may have been built up in a particular software language. Once an organisation begins to leverage a new technology it is often prudent to retrain resources. Of course this approach needs to be managed carefully to ensure the required standards are met on the next project. To mitigate this risk experienced management/leads along with quality assurance, code management, and principles can be applied. In addition to retraining existing resources the following points are worth considering to help make resourcing smoother:

· Given both the technical complexities and the changing landscape a standard resume search may not yield the right candidates. It’s imperative that recruiters understand the technology components and the resourcing approach along with required skills and the ability to retrain/mentor and guide people with similar/complimentary skills.

· Shifts in the market often bring opportunities to leverage a surplus of complementary skills. For example with companies like Nokia and Blackberry there was a shift in relative market share. Whenever there is a acquisition there are often good employees looking for their next opportunity.

· Consider the global pool and that with the correct governance approach a blended team of onsite and offshore can work effectively. It is important that appropriate measures (standards, communication, reporting, etc.) are put in place to manage outcomes.

· Many companies cycle between in-house and outsourced specialist skills. There are good arguments on both sides. To be effective ensure that appropriate thought is put into the model, especially when changing from one style to the other.

Especially in the area of Enterprise Mobility where often skills are in short supply. It may pay to source based on softer factors. For example attitude, integrity, willingness to work, intelligence, and fit to the specific working environment. Anyone can run a query of key words across linked-in or a resume database. To find the right people it’s important to understand the requirements, the technology stack, the resourcing model, and the potential candidate.

(This article was originally published on Enterprise Mobility Network

Friday, January 10, 2014

Enterprising the Consumer

Time to get on the bandwagon and mention a quick thought for Enterprise Mobility in 2014!
Enterprising the Consumer
Everyone talks these days about the “consumerisation” of the enterprise. However, much of the technology that is now used extensively in consumer devices came originally from enterprise innovation. For example battery life indicators, WIFI, and GPS (to name just a few) came from government and business sectors. It took some great minds and insights to bring together the nexus of available technologies into products that consumers had to have.

With a more general release of Google Glass expected in 2014 the spotlight will be on consumer uptake and associated unit sales volumes. However to make Glass a success it might take the enterprise sector to drive innovation into practical applications and use cases of the new form-factor. We are already seeing trials in police and military applications. Expect to see:
  • Retail Shopping experiences, gift registry, along with retail employee facing applications
  • Conference and event location awareness for attendees, organizers, & booth bunnies
  • Real-estate and Tour applications for customer's and employees
  • Logistics and Asset Management applications