Shakespear enters a service request

To web, or not to web, that is the question—
Whether ’tis easier for consumers to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of poorly designed UIs,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of interfaces,
And by opposing end them? To browse, to shop—
in comfort; and by comfort, to use an app to end
the limits of screen size, and the thousand Natural shocks
that mobile devices are heir to? ‘Tis a consumerization
devoutly to be wished. To shop, to resolve IT needs,
perchance to surf; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that enhanced user experience, what productivity may come,
When we have shuffled off this legacy coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of forms based interface:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of IT,
Th’ Service desk’s wrong, the end users Contumely,
The pangs of despised service requests, the ITs delay,
The insolence of escalation, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy service tickets,
When personas themselves might their ticketus make
With a form based service request? Who would these escalations bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary file,
But that the dread of something after resolution,
The unresolved escalation, from whose bourn
No end-user returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those bugs we have,
Than port to others that we know not of.
Thus upgrades do make Cowards of us all,
And thus the unresolved hue of “Resolution”
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of a closed ticket,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Productivity. Soft you now,
BMC. Enterprise, in all thy Orisons
Be all my service requests remembered.

Slouching towards the dark ages of business software?

A recent article appearing on the Forbes online magazine web site (Google Buys Motorola Mobility…And So Begins The Dark Ages) suggests that Google’s gobbling of Motorola Mobility is one more sign that the Microsoft Empire, which has so dominated client computing over the past 20 years, is disintegrating. The “Pax Microsoft” is being done in by barbarians who are aligning their mobile software and hardware strategies to create competing camps with devices and applications that are incompatible. Instead of managing a monolithic device infrastructure dominated by one operating system (Windows), businesses will need to contend with a range that includes Android, iOS, RIM and Symbian, which account for nearly 90% of the mobility market (although that market makeup is also shifting with incredible speed). According to the view put forward by the Forbes article, this will be bad for businesses who rely on software for their operations, and it will be bad for software innovation.

The article argues that although Google claims to be only interested in Motorola’s patent portfolio, it is just a matter of time before they start favoring Motorola devices over all others. This argument ignores that fact that Google’s highly profitable business is based on ad revenue, not hardware and software sales (indeed, the Android operating system software is free). One might further question why Google would shift its attention from its highly profitable ad revenue (which is made possible by Android being on as many different mobile devices from as many different phone manufacturers as possible) to very low margin phone sales. Given Google’s relentless focus on profits, they are not likely to make that kind of trade. In fact, there is considerable incentive for them to keep their new hardware business completely separate from their search and advertising business (at least that’s the theory).

However setting that question aside, is the larger point of the article valid? Will having multiple competing mobile operating systems and devices herald a new “dark ages” for business software development?

Short version? Nope.

The FUD here is that the cost of supporting four or more operating systems will be so expensive that companies will either standardize around one (which risks making them incompatible with their partners or tying their fortunes to technology that could become obsolete), or they will need to support apps across a range of operating systems and be forced to limit their new software investments to small, low-function applications. Either way, innovation is stifled.
This would seem to be a logical conclusion. However it is based on the assumption that the cost of software development remains the same, and building an application to run on four different devices is four times more expensive than building it once. That, however, is not the case. New enterprise application development platforms (like the Sybase Unwired Platform, or SUP) are simplifying mobile application development. By delivering a standards based framework for creating mobile enterprise applications, platforms such as SUP make it easier and less expensive to build rich applications with a native look and feel, while tapping in to the vast ecosystem of web development talent, and at the same time breathe new life into existing server-based business applications. The fact is, the cost of building applications and managing complex device environments is dropping fast, which is one reason there is so much demand for business mobility these days.

It’s hard to predict the future, but here’s another way to look at recent trends in mobility: breaking the Microsoft virtual monopoly on client business systems could be a huge breath of fresh air for the industry.

Frankly, the flood of mobile devices and applications that are coming into the work place, and the efficiencies they are providing to business operations, is looking more like the start of a new golden age rather than an entire industry slouching toward the dark ages. To be successful in this new age, businesses need to adopt a mobility strategy that is device agnostic. Devices are commodities, software is what makes them useful (I mean, nobody buys an iPhone just to make phone calls, right?). Businesses should focus on a mobility strategy that enables them to build software they can easily port to whatever device is most suitable to the task at hand (or if nothing else, the latest shiny object). That way they can take full advantage of the latest commodity hardware while investing in deeper software functionality.

The Googleization of Motorola

Another interesting bit of news hit the wires this morning, with the announcement that Google is acquiring Motorola Mobility for a cool $12.5 billion. The surface level reasoning seems to revolve around Google getting their hands on Motorola’s extensive IP portfolio (17,000+ issued patents, plus another 7000+ pending patents). Since Google “controls” Android as a mobility OS, it’s become embroiled in an endless series of patent disputes with Apple and others of their ilk. Rolling in 17K worth of IP is a nice little ammo upgrade, but this clearly seems like a defensive move on Google’s part.

The far more interesting slant on this, however, is that the acquisition moves Google (with zero ambiguity) directly into the hardware business. So does this mean that the big brains at Google see hardware as a potential growth market? By controlling Android and buying Motorola Mobility, they now enter that exclusive club of companies that not only license an OS, but are also an OEM. This has to be significantly disruptive to their existing ecosystem, how could it not be? The commentary from Android licensees such as Samsung and HTC was polite, but it was likely delivered through gritted teeth.

The real question is how is Google going to keep bias from entering the system? There are over 500,000 Android phones being activated every day, but this blistering activation rate is spread out across 39 manufacturers. Since every OEM does their own little permutation of Android, the end user experience varies widely, which is pretty much the exact opposite of Apples tightly controlled gilded ecosystem. Google will continue to claim an agnostic approach (of course), but for 12.5 billion it is not unreasonable to assume that Motorola will get to cut in line when new shiny objects come out of the Google pipe. Where does this leave the big Android OEMs, specifically Samsung and HTC? It is now highly likely they will give Windows Phone a much finer scrutiny, since Microsoft is now pretty much the only hardware agnostic player left.

From an enterprise mobility perspective this is interesting, but probably won’t have much impact on the transformative drivers for adoption; the devices that are broadly used are limited in terms of the number of suppliers, and we work very closely with all of them. In addition, the contextual framework is becoming very apps centric (and we have a strong story for that as well), and the impact of the acquisition on that is likely to be limited as well.

Envisioning Mobility

Many businesses and organizations across a broad variety of industries have discovered that work place mobility is both a planned and unplanned reality.

In recent years, the proliferation of web-enabled smartphones and low-cost business applications accessible through apps stores has lowered the decision threshold for bringing new mobile applications into an organization. The result is workgroups as well as individuals are now in a position to make impulse-level decisions about business mobility. This new reality will not only impact corporate IT management, it will also very likely have unintended consequences on the security of business data. Yet this consumerish demand for greater business mobility grows stronger because employees understand the clear advantages of having mission critical information available to them whenever and wherever they need it.

Unfortunately, for some companies, good business mobility ideas turn into a management quagmire as corporate IT struggles to manage multiple mobile applications running on a variety of different mobile device types, each with its own set of management, OS, and configuration tools. As if this wasn’t enough, many of these mobilized solutions are also unable to share data. The result is an environment ruled by cognitive dissonance, where mobile solutions produce more isolated and siloed workflows, operating without any context or referential integrity. An unintended consequence? Executive management has greater difficulty seeing inside these silos of mobilized business process.

These are the consequences of an enterprise lumbering into mobility ad hoc. However, with a well thought-through strategy, it is possible to effectively avoid all of these problems. This blog entry will run in four parts, and detail a common sense approach anyone considering a mobile business solution should take. These steps are intended to help you think through your next generation mobility solution in the context of both strategic and tactical business objectives, as well as to contextualize how the solution will fit into a future that has been transformed by a more mobilized business model.

Step 1: Envision Mobility in Your Business

Whether you are trying to decide how to enhance a business process with mobility, or evaluating an internal proposal to deploy a mobile business application, the first step is to envision how this solution improves your operations. The initial blog posting I did on this (last week’s post) started with two basic questions; first, what does your company do for a living and how can mobility improve your offering, and second, what do your employees do, and how can mobility make them more efficient? Having (presumably) thought about that, let’s move into slightly more focused questions.

• What business processes benefit from a proposed mobility solution? In many cases, ideas for business mobility are put forward by work groups trying to solve very specific issues. It might be an investment manager who needs more immediate access to financial data. It might be a group of health service providers who need more timely or convenient access to patient records. It could be a group of field sales people asking for a mobile customer relationship management (CRM) module that allows them to see customer information like locations and contacts, order history, contract status, and other types of customer information, while at the point of customer contact. In evaluating these proposals, one of the very first things an organization needs to do is to look at the operational value a mobile solution will provide.

In nearly all cases, mobile solutions offer better communications, faster and more accurate decision making, and better customer service—all of which can provide a competitive advantage in the way your business operates. However, it is also possible for mobile solutions to offer benefits that extend beyond the immediate process issue they’re proposed to solve. For instance, a mobile CRM solution can provide a way for field sales people to enter data in real time, rather than at the end of the day or week when many sales people traditionally do their activity reporting. That means others in the organization can have a more immediate, real-time view of sales activity. This may not be a benefit the sales team who proposed a mobile CRM solution even thought about—they’re more interested in having the information they need to close sales. But sales management and business planners may be very interested in this added benefit of a mobile CRM solution.

• Who needs access to a mobile solution to address business processes? This is a critical question because it determines how many mobile devices you’ll need to manage, where they are likely to be located, what parameters define what they can access, what are the associated governance policies, etc. In the case of, for example, a mobile CRM solution, it would seem at the very least that all the field sales people could easily justify having it. However, it’s also likely that their sales managers and support staff will need it as well. Once you factor in the device component of a mobilized workflow, the ability to access data expands very quickly, and this trend is likely to accelerate as tablets begin entering the mobile enterprise.

• Who else in the organization needs access to a mobile solution? If a mobile solution has benefits that extend beyond those people directly involved in the business process, who might those people be, and what kind of access do they need? For instance, in the case of a mobile CRM solution, looking beyond sales people and their managers, it is quite possible higher level executives would benefit from being able to see real time sales data. However, these people may not be interested in all the features available in a sales force oriented mobile CRM application. They may be most interested in reporting features that enable them to see what is happening in the field.

Also, as part of the “who else will need access” question, don’t forget that somebody in the organization will be managing the devices, policies around device usage, and security related to the work being done on those devices. This question becomes important because it suggests that different perspectives (or dashboards) of the application’s status and performance may be needed for different people in the organization.

• Who will need it in the future? Begin by assuming change is a constant. It is important to look ahead to where business mobility could enhance business processes in the future. You may not be building these scenarios into your mobile solution today, but to avoid obsolescence, you will want a solution that leaves the door open to future development and/or enhancements. For instance, one day you may want a more direct link between manufacturing and real time sales reporting. Or if you are in a consumer products business, you may one day have mobile direct marketing initiatives, like phone-based coupons or promotions, that use customer response data (from the consumers’ own phones) to drive sales and other business planning activities.

• How does the solution integrate with existing processes and systems? In other words, would the mobile solution augment an existing system, or would it create a new, redundant system? If you are able to adopt a mobile solution that takes advantage of existing back-end data, you can lower the operational overhead associated with the solution, and you will have a solution that will be more adaptable to your immediate business needs over the long term.

This was essentially a very high-level walk through on some preliminary considerations. In the next post, I’ll go into detail on how specifically to get started, and what dependencies you need to be factoring into your mobilization initiatives.

Targeting vs. Delivery

Dick Reed over at Just Media recently ran a blog post that examined the changes in advertising spending for the top 50 technology companies from 2006 to 2007. The shift in spend works out as follows: TV down 6%, newspapers down 31% , magazines down 25%, B2B press down 16%, outdoor up 45%, radio down 10%, internet up 20%. The overall shift in spending numbers is not surprising, pretty much everyone is being more cautious these days. The figures for internet advertising are as expected (factoring in the zillions that continue to fall into Google’s pockets) The outdoor advertising number is pretty interesting, but primarily reflects new technology being applied to a very old medium (having said that, the digital billboards are pretty cool, even if I can only look at them for 2 seconds).

The real issue for advertising spending is not the delivery vehicle per se as much as the targeting capability. A really great ad that reaches a million people who aren’t interested makes money for everyone except the client. The less sexy but more useful component of this is taking the underlying database of targets and running behavior and demographic cross-references. You could even take it a step further and apply predictive analytics, which would let you anticipate what the consumer wants even before they know it (sort of like a more sophisticated form of collaborative filtering). At any rate, hopefully the numbers Dick put up will start to head north soon, there’s a few leading indicators this may start happening.

Dance of the elephants

So what are the kingpins of on-line advertising up to? To date, Google has done an excellent job of wringing every last penny possible out of text-based advertising tied to search returns, while Yahoo has been pretty successful (stock price notwithstanding) at delivering a rich media experience to it’s end-users in the context of search returns. Sounds like there’s a nice confluence of opportunity here for both companies to combine their efforts. Then of course, there’s always the possibility that the other behemoth, Microsoft, seeing Google as the threat it really is, would try to step in and snap up Yahoo, since they are more acquirable now than they have been in years. But this misses a crucial point… Continue reading “Dance of the elephants”

Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite–Getting Closer

This morning Adobe announced the availability of their Technical Communication Suite. While the offering is broad and appears to be tightly integrated, its still just shy of where it needs to be in terms of addressing critical requirements for true enterprise deployment. Continue reading “Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite–Getting Closer”