Science fiction vs. consumer reality

As a lifelong fan of science fiction, I’m always interested to see where the creative types think technology could lead us. On one hand, you have the dystopian vision seen in I Robot: humans entrust robots to take care of them, which leads to the robots attempting a global coup. On the other hand, you have the utopian version seen in Star Trek: people boldly go where no one has gone before, work out their neuroses in holodecks, and transport off-planet with the amount of effort it takes to tweet.

Both versions offer intriguing views of the future and, while they trend towards opposite extremes, they share one thing in common: our dependency on information technology. The trend started decades ago—probably the first time someone picked up their 12-pound laptop, groaning and gritting their teeth as they struggle to get to their next meeting. Since those early days, the rate of change of consumer technology has been staggering. Consumer demand has driven technology development as the industry realized the profit potential and responded with increasingly awesome products. Today, we keep our computers in our pockets.

The accelerating trend in consumer technology combines mobility, social groups, and ease of use to empower end users in ways unimaginable a few years ago. Smartphones are designed to be with you at all times — try going out sometime and deliberately leave your phone at home. Feels weird, doesn’t it? Likewise, tablets are highly portable, extremely intuitive, and offer more computing power than all of NASA when we first landed on the moon. These amazing devices keep us connected to each other and aware of what’s happening in the world. They enhance our lives by enabling us to spend less time computing and more time living.

This ultimately translates into productivity.

Time saved is productivity gained

When was the last time you spent twenty minutes scrutinizing a map at a gas station? How about driving to the bank to deposit a check or calling a travel agent to book a trip? Today, we outsource those tasks to our devices and reallocate the time we save to other, more productive activities. Our devices are designed to increase our productivity (assuming time spent on Facebook is productive) as well as engagement.

But once we stop being consumers and start being employees, things are different. We fill out forms, call internal help lines, and log in to multiple websites using multiple passwords. Our phones and tablets aren’t allowed to talk to our servers. We have to mark our emails as “read” on two or more devices, and we have to maintain contact information on different machines. Compared to our experience as consumers, our experience as employees dealing with information technology can be wildly unproductive and frustrating.

When a company’s IT environment impairs an employee’s productivity, three things happen:

1. It costs the company money.

Productivity lost is money lost, pure and simple. With today’s fast-paced business environment, every minute counts. A few minutes could mean the difference between securing a large account and losing it to a competitor. And when employees are spending as much time wrestling with internal systems as they’re spending interacting with customers or completing tasks, they’re less able to contribute to the company’s success in meaningful ways.

2. Employees become disengaged.

Our experience as consumers has created a new set of tech expectations. You might say we’ve become spoiled, and you’re probably right. But spoiled or not, the reality is that when we encounter a clunky user interface or an inefficient system, we become frustrated, and eventually cynical. Employees interact with their companies through technology, and if an employee’s IT experience is marked by frustration, those feelings will extend to their employer.

3. The customer experience suffers.

One of the accepted industry benchmarks for company success is the Net Promoter Score, or whether a customer would recommend the company to a friend. Like it or not, an employee represents their company to the public and, more importantly, to customers. If your employees are unresponsive and disengaged because of their IT environment, this inevitably carries over to your customers and how they then choose to represent your company to their peers. A happy customer can be an incredible asset, while an unhappy one can trash you with extreme efficiency, thanks to social media.

Mind the gap

There’s a gap between our technological lives as consumers of and our technological lives as employees. It’s the responsibility of IT leaders to narrow that gap by supporting apps and devices that provide the same streamlined, intuitive IT experience that employees have become used to as consumers.

While this transition will not be inexpensive, the cost can easily be justified by long-term gains in productivity and positive customer experience. This approach will also increase employee satisfaction and enhance your company’s reputation with its customers. By mapping the IT function to customer satisfaction and employee productivity, IT becomes an integral part of a company’s strategic success, driving the kind of transformative change that impacts the entire ecosystem.

To BYOD or not to BYOD?

While we might claim we want to live our lives like a beer commercial (with a mighty thirst for undying adventure), in the end it’s more puffery than not because we end up migrating toward what is comfortable and familiar. When it comes to our work tools, we don’t want the challenge of the unknown – we want familiarity. That’s why BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is so popular. We don’t want to jump back and forth between different devices with disparate operating systems, search for buried bookmarks, or explore never-before-seen versions of software. If you’re like me, in a hurry most of the time, anything that slows you down even slightly tends to be pushed aside very quickly.

The Dreaded Learning Curve

When you are handed a completely different and new shiny object at the office, you might feel elated at first (especially if the equipment is better than your own), but you also know you’re going to face a frustrating learning curve that will, at a minimum, slow you down while you figure out the nuances. I heard a lot of friends howling and complaining about being forced from the comfort of Microsoft® Windows 7® into the unfamiliar territory of Windows 8®. Think back to the years before you had a preferred mobile operating system. Before you became an iOS devotee, or perhaps an Android™ zealot. Do you remember how frustrating the learning curve was when you acquired a new phone? It doesn’t matter if it is a massive upgrade – it’s a new massive upgrade, and new nearly always means disruptive.

Pros of BYOD

Is BYOD “good” or “bad”? Like most questions, the answer depends on whom you ask.

1. Productivity

Employers aren’t stupid (most of them, at any rate). They know that when employees are allowed to access work email on a personal smartphone, they will check email 20+ times per day more and end up working as much as two extra hours each day. The Telegraph notes that nearly 9 out of 10 office workers can access work email on their phones, and two-thirds of them check email as soon as they wake up, and right before they go to bed.

2. One Consistent Device

When you use the same devices at home and at work, you don’t need to learn multiple systems or switch back and forth to access bookmarks, search history, apps and software, etc. This is an enormous advantage with BYOD. It is all about productivity, and a consistent experience that keeps me focused and moving fast.

3. Cool factor

Mitch Landry, a BMC principal product manager based in Gig Harbor, Washington said, “Historically, IT shops only would let you use approved devices. It was all about IT. You would go to the IT guys, and everyone was an idiot but them. And if you put something on your desktop that wasn’t approved, they would remove it. That has totally changed. IT is no longer is running the ship, they are a service organization.”

Landry said that a new generation is growing into management positions and demanding to use personal devices (tablets, Macs, smartphones, etc.) once considered unconventional and unsupportable. “They have all these devices and new expectations for service, and the goal for the IT guy today is providing business flexibility and agility. It’s not just about IT anymore, it’s about increasing the productivity of the business.”

Cons of BYOD

1. IT security strains

If you were feeling pretty good about BYOD, not everyone necessarily agrees with you. At the Gartner® Symposium/ITxpo®, Gartner listed BYOD as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2014, and estimated that BYOD will double or even triple the size of the mobile workforce – and place a huge strain on IT and finance organizations.

Gartner describes BYOD as “a disruptive phenomenon where employees bring non-company IT into the organization and demand to be connected to everything – without proper accountability or oversight.” Gartner goes on to warn about BYOD causing violations of all kinds of enterprise rules and regulations, and leading to detrimental impacts on network availability and loss of data. However, with the
 proper governance policies in place, this type of evolution can be handled gracefully. The transformation is inevitable (it’s already well underway), so managing this process is not as dire as the analysts predict. Going mobile with BYOD is not difficult, it’s just complicated, and we do complicated things all day, every day.

2. Indirect costs and threats

According to FireEye, the average enterprise organization is attacked by malware once every three minutes, with each attack costing $3,000 per day or more to recover. Yikes. Opening up the corporate network to rogue BYOD devices increases the likelihood of these costly attacks.

There are security tools and policies that can be enabled on a personal device that allow it to play nicely in a corporate environment and minimize risk, but with BYOD, that risk still will exist. The risk, however, can be controlled, and the associated competitive risk of not mobilizing is far greater.

3. Equipment expenses: Employee costs

Cisco says that 90 percent of employers have some kind of BYOD policy, but the reality is that most of them are not very sophisticated. For example, if your employer doesn’t have some formal process for reimbursement or a way to track the depreciation of personal devices, then the employee bears the brunt of the cost of a BYOD initiative. (Of course, for the employer, this comes out as a Pro.)

Can You COPE With BYOD?

In the wake of the known security perils associated with BYOD, and the obvious desire for employees to personalize their devices, some buzz has arisen around the concept of COPE (corporately-owned, personally-enabled). The idea is to allow the personalization and productivity of BYOD, but with reduced risk.

COPE allows corporate policy makers and IT leaders more control over which devices are supported and what controls are in place on the device, while still accommodating employees who want to personalize their device and content. Just as they could on their own device, employees can send personal emails, access social media, and download photos, but application controls can prevent corporate information from escaping established perimeters. In addition, the IT department controls the device and can remotely wipe the device if the employee loses it or leaves the company.

A Fond Memory of IT vs. Creative

I remember a day years ago when a web designer in our creative group brought his own Mac G4 to the office and managed to elicit a derisive snort from IT. “You don’t honestly think we’re going to support a Mac, do you?” The IT guys didn’t want (or know how) to support a device that wasn’t a PC.

Of course, looking back, I wonder if part of the problem might have been cultural; the IT guys didn’t care for those rogue, black-clad creative folk, slumping in their chairs and listening to bass-thudding techno. They scoffed at the creative types who clicked away their days with design software, sitting at darkened workstations and relishing the perpetual sport of disconnecting the fluorescent ceiling
tubes as soon as the confused maintenance guys popped them back into place. Good times.

These days, even in an enterprise environment, it’s probably more unusual for a creative team not to work on a Mac.

Is BYOD Good News or Bad News?

What do you think? What’s been your experience? And where do you think this is headed? Chime in.

Defining an enterprise social media strategy

A successful social media strategy begins with just that, a strategy. There is a non-trivial amount of technology at play here, and before wading into the deep end of social media, it is imperative that you have a clear understanding of your objectives. To begin:

1)Set a strategy. What are your long-term and short-term objectives for social media interaction? Are you looking to use a more nuanced social media capability to gain market share, expand against your current user base, or gain a stronger grasp of how to engage customers through a deeper understanding of what they are interested in based on their group dynamic? How are your customers likely to react to more focused attention from you, particularly in a public venue? Does this need socialization prior to implementation? What are your measures for success? How will you know when you’ve accomplished your goals? At what point do you begin adjusting variables, how will you adjust them, and which variables are likely to be most important?

2)Determine the stakeholders. Given the insight social media can deliver to your organization, the number of groups who are going to have an interest is likely to expand from your current operational model. This can include marketing, sales, customer support, merchandising (if applicable), operations, IT, etc. Each will have an interest in gaining a deeper perspective into how to use social media to interact meaningfully with their particular facet of customer engagement, and each is going to have a particular set of data requirements and reporting needs. Get your ducks lined up before your start moving, and once the process starts expect to adjust as you gain clarity into what works and what doesn’t.

3)Study the current level of performance of your existing social media initiatives. How much detail do you have on your existing social media initiatives? Are you able to measure beyond Likes and Retweets? What does the current data tell you? Are you finding a measureable level of success (or perceived success) with your existing initiatives? Helpful hint: before implementing an integrated social media strategy, create a starting frame of reference based on your existing social media initiatives. This will give you something to point back towards (“look how much we improved!”); a fully integrated social media strategy will always have a positive effect on your marketing performance; you want to be seen as the person responsible for making it happen.

4)Examine the current set of variables that can be used to drive segmentation. How many variables are you able to track across different social media groupings of information? The other issue to consider is that there are variables that may be in separate silos that could be incredibly useful for purposes of analysis. Questions you should be asking include:

a)What is the current marketing and/or CRM system of record, what relevant information is in there, and how easy is it to access the data?

b)Where do you track customer support requirements? Customers who are active in social media are already leaving a wealth of details in their wake which can be used to personalize customer support interactions.

c)Are you able to tie social media interaction driven by in-line posts into your customer’s profile? When they receive a communication from you and respond or engage, are you able to capture and track interaction information on the event, and can it be tracked as part of the user profile to driven content optimization?

d)What level of detail can you pick up from mobile social behavior? The beauty of mobile social is knowing when and where to reach out to people in the context of a peer group. A customized and well-timed social communication mapped to the user’s physical location can drive a serendipitous interaction. Don’t just satisfy your customers, delight them.

e)Are you able to assign attribution from social media and map that to your outbound customer engagement strategy?

f)What level of detail are you able to gain from your merchandising system? Do you know who bought what when and is there any corollary data in social media that ties to the purchase event? Look for longer term patterns that allow you to anticipate their next move with high confidence, which can subsequently be driven by social media interactions.

g)How can you integrate this initiative with existing Behavioral Targeting, or Collaborative Filtering or Predictive Modeling, etc. applications?

Social media strategy planning is not difficult, but it is complicated. While the variables that drive social media are constantly shifting, the core elements addressed here are going to be pretty constant, and should provide a consistent framework for execution.

What vs. Why

A recent study indicated that only 14% of tablet experiences and 13% of smartphone experiences are personalized. Why are these numbers so low? The concept of personalization has been in play for quite a while, and some mobile websites do a great job of tracking interests and making recommendations, with Amazon probably being the best example. Although in fairness, they are in a nearly perfect position to drive personalization. They have a vast product offering and tons of data to work from; most of their recommendations are driven by a collaborative filtering engine (people like you bought stuff like this) that is continuously being refined via billions of transactions. They are arguably the market leader at addressing the “what” of marketing, perhaps less so at the more critical question: “why?”, which is what drives deep personalization. If they are the market leader for “what” personalization technology, and they’re struggling with “why”, you can well imagine what little has been done by other sites. What’s up with Why?

The “why” of mobile personalization requires a more nuanced interpretation of consumer behavior, and one of the potential benefits of mobility is that it can add that layer of nuance. Why? Because unlike desktops, the mobile device (specifically a smartphone) is always with the consumer, and always on. As mobile devices become more powerful and useful, we’ve come to rely on them almost continuously, and that heavy usage is where the subtleties that can address “why” come into play. I may shop at Amazon once or twice per week, but I am on my phone pretty much non-stop in one form or another.

So what is holding back personalization on a mobile device? Everyone (correctly) expects a rich and relevant experience when surfing from a desktop, but what happens when you move to that cool gadget in your pocket? There are several antecedent questions:

First, what kind of device? Tablet or smartphone? Which operating system and which release? Which browser and which release? What’s the screen size? Are your email messages and associated landing pages optimized for a mobile experience, or do you cram a PC site onto a mobile device (you’d be surprised how often this happens)?

Second, what data can you capture? Do you have a history of the user’ interaction with your brand? Have they opted in to having personal data collected? Have they bought from you before or are they a newbie? Are you able to track their movement through the funnel and map your messages to match their stage of interest?

Third, what do you do with the data? Are you able to tease out attribution? Assuming a multi-touch campaign (which applies to all non-impulse purchases), how do you know which ad exposure was the tipping point? Or does the last touch get all the credit? Knowing exactly what worked is incredibly valuable information for future initiatives designed to create those moments of serendipity that can delight your customers.

Fourth, how do you manage the complete customer lifecycle? Regardless of what you’re selling, customers will buy more that one of your product (exception: caskets). Marketing is not a process with a beginning and end, it’s a continuous loop of replacements and upgrades. Knowing how to cultivate a long term relationship can add multiple zeros to your bottom line.

So the why of mobility is not just about the device, it’s about the contextual use of the device, the contextual framework of underlying data and what is done with it that can lead to as rich an experience as you’d expect on a desktop, translated to a mobile device. It is the confluence of mobility and social media where “why” will really come into its own; consumers pouring the minutia of their lives online, then accessing it via an always on device. It is, as you can see, complex, subject to rapidly changing dynamics, and requires skills that are still beyond the grasp of most companies (particularly SMBs). However, the first company to figure out how to address “why” at scale is where the next crop of billionaires is likely come from.

The Actual Implementation of Mobility

One of the challenges of working in the technology industry is being enveloped in the skewed perspective that everyone takes your technology as seriously as you do. I’ve spent years working with (among other things) mobile technology, and its use is so pervasive within that sub-domain, that the assumption is every other company in every other domain is taking it as seriously.

The truth is that mobile technology is still in a state of relative youth (not infancy, but not yet pubescent). As you would expect, some sectors have adopted and deployed very rapidly, some are being cautious, and others are clueless or indifferent. So here is the problem; even in those sectors with rapid adoption, the actual deployment is still not driven by the right perspective. There is so much noise in the media on mobile technology that is creates a sense of urgency without a clear understanding of the motivations—“Quick! Act now before it’s too late!” — Everyone jumps, but no one ask how exactly, or more importantly, why?

There is a rush in the B2C space to move to all things mobile (App or HTML5? Geo-location data? What about Behavioral Targeting? Which browser? etc.). The fundamental question should be “How will this technology accelerate our existing business initiatives?” Assuming a big, well-run company to begin with, how does the extension of a mobile channel affect the core business model? One of the challenges with this is there is not much historical or anecdotal evidence to fall back on, everyone is figuring this out as they go along. This is not necessarily bad, we did the same thing a few years earlier when the world wide web suddenly became friendly thanks to Mosaic, and eventually things settled and new ecosystems sprung up. It did take about 10-12 years for the market to stabilize, and that is likely to be the case here.

While mobile technology has been around for quite a while, mobile data (as in smart phones) is a lot more recent, so the expectation that current mobile technology will have an immediate and positive impact on business operations is misplaced. It will have some positive effect, as people exploit the convenience of mobility, but to leverage the truly transformation aspects of mobility will take time, since it requires a fundamental and long-term shift in underlying business models. This is not something that happens quickly in larger companies, regardless of adoption rates or media hype. It is, however, a given that this technology is now permanent and embedded, so it will require all business to rethink the fundamental nature of how they work day to day; mobility is not a strategic imperative anymore, it is, in fact, quite tactical, which makes it far more important.

Skimming the Surface

It’s interesting to note that Microsoft has FINALLY stepped into the tablet space with a product that could in theory compete against the iPad juggernaut. It’s particularly interesting that they are offering two flavors of “Surface” (the current brand for the tablet entry), one is an ARM-based machine with a form factor very similar to an iPad (small, thin, and consumption oriented, although oddly enough, it includes the Office Suite), and a second slightly heavier machine that is closer to a MacBook Air.

Will they succeed? Probably, but not at the expense of Apple. Any gains made by these machines will come out of Android’s hide. Why? Because Apple has always aimed at the high end of the market, they never have been/never will be interested in the mass market, where Android is running wild. If you go by the hype, you’d think Apple is completely dominating the mobile device market. They’re not. Android in all it’s permutations has taken over that space by a significant margin, and Apple has once again painted itself into a gilded corner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s hard to argue with one of the richest, most successful companies on the planet.

Microsoft’s strength has always been in the office, their dominance there makes Apple look like a distant spec on the horizon, the “consumerization of IT” notwithstanding. This product rollout is a good extension for them, a lot of people were moving to iPads because there wasn’t a viable alternative, and while the iPad is cool and fun, it is not something I would use for work, aside from checking e-mail. Android as an alternative is simply too fragmented and the market too chaotic. Businesses thrive in a market with predictable rules, and Android does not offer anything like that. However, Microsoft does, and that alone is likely to tip the market solidly in their favor. This could be similar to what happened when IE entered the market late, and in the long run it made zero difference. The fact that Microsoft has re-entered the hardware space and is now competing against it’s old buds like HP and Samsung will probably not matter much in the long run either. The compelling event is always software driven, so the success of this foray is just a matter of entering the market with an integrated stack that plays to their strengths, which this clearly does.

Mobility in the year 2020

I was recently working on a long range planning exercise, and one of the issues I was asked to address was where the market for mobility was likely to be by the year 2020? Given my normal hard-core focus on getting product out the door ASAP, asking where the market is going to be almost a decade away made me shake my head and say “huh?” I sat back and started thinking about this, and the more I thought about it the more interesting the process became. Maybe the first step in deciding where we’ll be in ten years is to compare where we are now relative to ten years ago.

The Mobile Communications Phase

For the sake of convenience, let’s call it the year 2000. Everyone had cell phones, but they were feature phones, not smartphones. People were adjusting to being able to make phone calls at any time, from nearly any location (and at the time, that was pretty cool). RIM was making pagers, not phones, and the iPhone/iPad juggernaut was still seven years away from breaking the surface. This was very much the Mobile Communications Phase. A lot has obviously happened since then; RIM introduced the Blackberry, and suddenly phones became far more useful, Apple eventually rolled out the iPhone, and mobile phones went from useful to way cool almost overnight. It also ushered in the next phase, which is where we are now.

The Mobile Information Phase

Now that were into the second decade of the 21st century, we have clearly evolved from the Mobile Communications Phase to the Mobile Information Phase. We now go through life surrounded by infinite knowledge, and all we need to do to access it is swipe our finger on a small piece of glass. There are lots of vendors pushing into this space, with the most serious traction going to Apple and Samsung. People are still getting used to the idea of instant knowledge, regardless of where they are, and it is fundamentally changing our cultural epistemology. So given where we are, where are we headed?

The number of smartphones in active use is not likely to increase much beyond where it is, this is simply a function of how many people there are to buy/use a smartphone (which is to say, mobile device growth at some point will start to correlate more closely to population growth). We are currently at around 7 billion humans, and somewhere around 6 billion + mobile devices. By 2020 there will be around 7.6 billion of us, and so the number of devices in use is not going to increase that much, but there will be lots of upgrades as new devices continue to roll out, (I mean, who won’t want the iPhone15 or iPad10?).

The number of tablets will increase considerably, of course tablets are coming off a much smaller base than smartphones, so the upside is more significant. What could be more interesting is the development of a smartphone/tablet hybrid; what if you can change the size of your smartphone to accommodate specific business or entertainment needs? When you open up a laptop now, you effectively double the surface area you’re working with, what if you could do that twice on a smartphone (that is, 4X the surface area)? Unfold your smartphone twice, and you’re holding a tablet. There’s lot of hardware based permutations possible, and I expect people will tire of carrying around two devices when one hybrid can do the trick. But the real growth area, the real future of mobility is something else entirely.

The Mobile Environment Phase

If the first phase was Mobile Communications, and the second phase is Mobile Information, the next phase will be the Mobile Environment. By environment I mean anything you can touch, see, sense on any level will become an enabler of the mobile life. This will be driven by the integration of a much more massive ecosystem which already has over a trillion elements in play; specifically wireless devices, including sensors, RFID chips, grid networks, etc. The machine to machine space is a much bigger opportunity in the long run, and is also part of the mobile ecosystem. If you can stick a chip in it, you can give it an IP address, and you can mobilize it and analyze it. This can literally be applied to nearly anything, as well as to the component elements of anything; examples could include:

Transportation: you don’t just track a rail car, you track the pressure on the spring assembly, you separately track wear and tear on ball bearings, rail line wear, etc. Your automobile will be riddled with sensors which speak to each other on a continuous basis as you drive around, with the express intention of protecting you. They will also speak to other cars to avoid hazardous conditions, e.g water pooled on third lane of 280 southbound by Page Mill Road—cars approaching this location will automatically slow down, in fact BMW is already testing prototypes of this.

Consumer Packaged Goods: You walk into a grocery store, your iPhone15 uses location based services to know exactly where you are (Safeway) and automatically sends a request to your refrigerator to ping the food inside (hey milk, are you fresh?). The milk carton has an RFID tag with a sensor that tracks date of packaging, and knows that it expired yesterday (why no, refrigerator, I’m not fresh at all). Orange juice, on the other hand, tells the fridge it’s okay. The refrigerator sends a message back to the iPhone telling you what exactly to buy based on what you need to update, you drop everything into a cart, and walk right out of the store, since all the groceries have RFID tags, no need to check out, it happens automatically as you exit past a scanner, and the information is sent through your iPhone, to your bank to debit your account.

Health Services: We have an aging boomer population, and (unfortunately) a statistically significant population that will be susceptible to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s that require close supervision. Bracelets with RFID chips that contain the users complete medical history, including up to the moment medication doses, will become a standard part of care protocol. Furthermore, location-based technology can be used to know exactly where grandma wandered off to, and perimeter alerts can be set up to keep her from straying too far. Doctors can do a much more efficient job of remote diagnostics by analyzing small fluid samples in portable devices that can transmit data into a patient database that correlates across a vast array of clinical, historical, and personal data and provides the optimal solution to the patients current care requirements.

These are, of course, quick examples, there is a vast adjacent set of opportunities in both collaboration and analytics which will be executed through the enterprise and their associated supply chain, which I will address in a future blog.

Kindle Fire and the Compelling Event

No sooner had Jeff Beezos publicly introduced the new Kindle Fire than commentators began dissecting it and making bold predictions.

Some insist that it is an iPad killer based on price point alone. Others believe it has carved out a new space and will succeed by enlarging the tablet market rather than cutting into iPad’s share.

Regardless of how the increasingly competitive tablet market plays out over the coming years, recent developments have revealed some interesting aspects of the tablet market that may be lessons for corporate IT decision makers. Consider that the prices of main-stream mobile devices are dropping. Although Kindle Fire has fewer features than the iPad, it has essential features for quickly viewing a wide range of image, video, and text based information. And at $199, the device is practically disposable.

This downward price trend is also true for high end smartphones. When iPhones first came to market four years ago, they sold for $599 (for the 8Gig of memory model). Within a few years the price point for high end phones settled in to the $200 to $300 range with a contract. However every new smartphone model comes with more computing power (including dual-core processors for the new generation), more memory, and other new features its predecessor did not have. This makes the new phones more serviceable devices for the same price.

Another interesting insight into pricing of mobile devices comes from HP as it lurches forward in search of a vision. When HP announced it was getting out of the tablet business and dropped the price its unpopular TouchPad from $379 to $99, it set off a mind boggling buying frenzy. Some observers noted that price matters.

Jeff Beezos suggests the success of tablet devices depends on the information services behind them (and in an earlier blog, I had made a similar observation, context can be a driving force). The iPad currently dominates the tablet market with a rich applications store and iTunes. Amazon’s Kindle Fire comes to market with books, streaming video, Android’s application marketplace, and a different kind of browsing technology that is supposed to accelerate access to internet based information. Other tablet makers have largely failed because information is not part of the offering. It is the information behind the device that matters perhaps more than the device itself, or as I have said in the past, the compelling event is the app.

One lesson here that is relevant to mobility in business is that the devices themselves are not so important. In fact devices are becoming so cheap and so functional that device adoption decisions are more like non-decisions. What makes these devices valuable is their relationship to corporate information. What applications will they run? What back-end data is available to workers? How can mobile workers use their devices to augment the data everyone on the organization depends upon? These are the real questions.

Enterprise Apps: Learning to Share

My mom always said, “It’s really worth getting along with your neighbors”. And my father would counter, “Good fences make good neighbors”. As valuable as these two conflicting bits of advice are relative to life in general, they are equally trenchant when it comes to a problem that nearly all enterprise mobile device ecosystems are going to face. In an enterprise mobile ecosystem of user supplied devices, enterprise apps and data will very likely be sharing space and resources with various kinds of personal content.

Initially, the concerns that arise from this consideration will have to do with availability of device resources, and it could be something as simple as “Will the device owner take so many pictures or videos with the onboard camera that there won’t be enough memory left for mobile business apps to function effectively?”. While introducing elements of uncertainty and the possibility that exceptional conditions will arise, these types of constraints are things app designers can work around if they are aware the potential for problems exists. Today, however, we are on the threshold of some dramatically more complex issues. Softpedia News reports that 87% of Wi-Fi Smartphones will support 802.11n in 2014.

Ubiquitous Wi-Fi in smartphones means that mobile devices will take a primary role in serving interactive content like multiplayer online gaming, streaming video and audio, and providing users with personal access to web-based assets like email and social media. Given this, it is very likely that some of the next generation mobile app neighbors will prove rambunctious. Because users own devices, and in many cases, pay for connectivity themselves, enterprise mobile apps that piggy back on these platforms have to toe a blurry line in terms of how much control they can exercise over a device and how many of its resources they can permanently co-opt. On the one hand it would be unreasonable to deny a user access to her own device or its feature set; On the other hand, enterprise mobile apps have to be able to:

• Operate with enough security to protect the privacy of sensitive data
• Operate robustly enough to ensure transactions are complete and validated
• Maintain sufficient contact with enterprise back end data repositories so they present the mobile worker with timely and accurate business intelligence

And not only do they have to be able to accomplish all of these objectives, they have to do so in a consistent fashion across a variety of mobile device hosts. Enterprise ready mobile strategy for a diverse population of Wi-Fi capable user devices demands a safe and durable sandbox in which enterprise mobile apps can live and function, without either unnecessarily impinging on their neighbors or being trampled by them.

Leveraging Mobility to Sharpen Business Intelligence

I just spent several days in Las Vegas at TechWave, and was fortunate to be able to spend some time with some of our early adopter mobility customers. The fact that they are on the leading edge of mobility adoption means these are customers who have already show the foresight to be thinking strategically. One of the areas that came up consistently was how to find new and more effective ways to accumulate data that profiles customers, buying patterns, and up-selling/cross-selling opportunities, particularly for enterprises that have a B2C emphasis. Many savvy marketing thinkers are already at work developing best practices for mobile marketing and associated metrics. However, what may be missing from many enterprise plans for developing tactical and strategic business intelligence based on mobile device data is an appreciation of the subtle opportunities implicit in mobile user diversity.

Customer facing mobile apps are more than just a way to reach consumers in the right place and at the right time with buying incentives. They are also a tool for finding out what is happening in a given brand’s community right now.

Think of it in these terms; there will never be an opportunity to see a fresher view of customer sentiment and motivation than the one harvested from mobile device users engaged with your brand, because unlike desktop and laptop users, mobile device users have an implicit context in location and time. The immediacy of this context goes a long way toward bridging the gap between marketing data and business intelligence. The distinction is significant, because while data is useful, intelligence is something I can use to make decisions.

However, because it is based on dynamic data, business intelligence that is location or temporally driven tends to have a very short shelf-life. This is why it is crucial to architect mobile solutions that integrate well with existing business intelligence infrastructure. As an example, if an IT architect is trying to build out mobile business process support, what they absolutely don’t want to see in their enterprise mobile solution portfolio is a collection of standalone mobile apps that are captive in line-of-business silos. Mobile apps should be able to readily move their data to backend systems that aggregate and propagate information to additional business areas that could or should respond to changing conditions. Like mobility, analytics is endemic to an enterprise ecosystem and should be leveraged across all functions and processes.

An enterprise ready mobile strategy should integrate cleanly and securely with existing data management infrastructure, be able to operate across traditional lines of responsibility and enhance customer engagement opportunities. In essence, this is one of the defining qualities of a mobile enterprise application platform. Like enterprise apps and devices, developing and managing business intelligence is a job that demands holistic business process architectures.

This also begs the broader question, how expansive a definition of mobility and associated analytics should be factored into your planning? There are over 6 billion mobile devices in play globally, which is a pretty big number by any standards, but there are over 1 trillion wireless devices out there, all gathering data on a continuous basis. If you can stick a chip in it, you can give it an IP address, so this is not just about the consumer, it is about everything the consumer interacts with, all of which ties into gaining a more nuanced and actionable perspective of how to anticipate customer requirements. While the confluence of mobility and analytics offers a vast confluence of opportunity, we are barely seeing the tip of the iceberg.