Monthly Archives: December 2011

How Mobile Phones Will Make You Smarter

I had a teacher in Jr. High who was rather crotchety. He held strong opinions on many a social ill.  I am pretty sure his daily complaints were the real joy in his life. One of his habitual rants that stuck in my head centered on the fact that calculators made our minds dull. He called it the “idiot box”. He didn’t want us to use calculators as it was certain that our mental faculties would deteriorate.  I always thought his diatribe was rather misplaced as I found the calculator an invaluable tool to get the job done and move on with life.

The problem with his sentiment boils down to identifying what is the meaning of intelligence. (As a side note if you haven’t read Jeff Hawkins’ book On Intelligence it is a must. The implications for computing are enormous.) Much the same way we learn to read by first learning letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then finally books, our intelligence leverages the little things we already know to work with larger thoughts and ideas.  The ability to synthesize a hypothesis – extrapolate from what we already know- is the hallmark of intelligence.

I recently read an article by Steve Olenski regarding How Google Affects Our Memory. His concern is the decline in our ability to recall data because of having easy access to the data. However, I see this as a concern that doesn’t really matter. The long-term goal isn’t to recall facts but to formulate ideas.  Much like my Jr. High teacher, the fallacy in the article is misappropriating the value of the data – as if the data by itself has value. But data without concepts to tie it together is meaningless bits. For example, is it more important to remember the dates of the civil war or the fundamental concepts of the cause of conflict, what it says about human nature, and how not to repeat it?  Is it more important to remember a person’s contact information or a better way of interacting with them?

Steve Olenski is right – the internet, Google, and mobile device are most assuredly affecting our cognitive process – but in many positive ways. I for one welcome this new ‘idiot box’ I carry in my pocket. It functions as a tool to retain facts for me that I consider the minor details. It gives me the mind space to work on higher-order problems. Not only that, I can access the data faster than ever and rule out false ideas from positive ones. Instead of looking for an encyclopedia I can spend time thinking about how mobility and the ability to access instantly many different data streams will take us to new places.

How about you – do you think the ability to use tools such as mobile devices, Google, and the internet help make us smarter?

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2 Costly Limitations of Your Mobile Marketplace

Windows Phone 7 passed the 50,000 app mark today according to All About Windows Phone. As well, the Windows Phone 7 platform is adding apps at an increasing rate. This announcement of course will be followed by the quasi-religious banter pitting how this demonstrates that Window phone is increasingly relevant vs how this represents only a tenth of the apps available for iPhone and therefore Windows Phone is too little too late. There is heaps of emotion tied up in this never-ending-finger-in-the-ears (picture a 5 year-old with fingers in his ears “la-la-la-la-la I can’t hear you”) debate. It’s as if one’s choice in phone platform is correlated to some greater existential meaning in life – with the size of the app marketplace being the measure of worth. App store count and the resultant arguments, while great for press and simpleton comparison, are costly and completely meaningless from a business productivity standpoint.

What I want to know is how did the side-show become the main attraction? How did a device that was supposed to make our lives simpler and more efficient become the thing that is overwhelming us? Think of how much time you can spend browsing you phone’s mobile marketplace productivity category. How is that being productive? You’ll soon have to use an app just to find apps. Two costly drawbacks of the large app marketplaces are:

  1. Marketplace App count has no relation to app usefulness
  2. Apps are often isolated entities with no connection to other apps or data

APP COUNT

The number of marketplace apps is really pushed as a demonstrative measure of success by the mobile platforms. However, good publicity for them does not make good productivity for us. It would be good to reject this push and reshape the measuring stick. Having a million apps in your phone’s marketplace is no indication of how useful the device and platform will be in business. (For that matter, probably on a personal level either). Worse yet, those million apps will actually increase the signal-to-noise ratio and actually keep you from identifying truly great and productive apps. We currently have no good mechanism to measure app usefulness in a given category.

APP ISOLATION

An app by itself can be a productivity tool just as software installed on a PC can be a source of productivity. But productivity will reach a limit when all the functionality is leveraged -the useful ness is then capped. There is no added functionality without an app update. Thinking in terms of app counts completely misses the power and point of the cloud and a mobile platform’s ability to integrate with it. We need to be thinking in terms of ecosystems not apps. Thinking in terms of ecosystems gets us thinking in terms of what capabilities we can connect together to get a real boost in productivity. Thinking in terms of singular function apps is the PC mind-rut we are stuck in.

BYOD, the Consumerization of IT (CoIT), and mobility are a cresting wave rolling into shore will all its seemingly unstoppable power and force. It will crash down hard on businesses. We all really need a mechanism to channel that wave into useful energy that can be harnesses by the workforce. We need to be able to convert the energy into productivity. How will the wave crash down on you and your business? Will you let it be random and widespread or concentrated? Are you prepared to channel it?

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How Great Mobile Apps Are Like High School English Class

Think back to your high school English class (if you haven’t completely blocked those memories from your psyche). It was probably a time of drafts, red-ink, and many do-overs. For most of us it was our first encounter with the seminal classic Elements of Style by the infamous Strunk and White; William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White to be precise (Elwyn Brooks White to be more precise – and yes the same guy who wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little). I remember struggling through revision after revision trying to get my writing to align with all their recommendations. One of the bits of information that stuck in my head, perhaps because I often ran afoul with run-on sentences, was that great writing needs to be succinct and to the point. Elements of Style puts it this way:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Boy was that one a tough one for me. My sentences went on and on as I tried to make them as flowery as possible. Mostly it was because I felt I just needed to fill space. Trouble is, my reader got lost and my point got lost. There was something legitimate I was trying to communicate but since I couldn’t make it a crisp point my writing was a tangled mess.

A close cousin to writing succinctly is writing in the active voice. Writing in the active voice is where the subject of the sentence performs or causes the action expressed by the verb; in other words constructing sentences where the subject “acts”.  This is the difference between ‘I closed the deal’ versus ‘the deal was closed by me’. The former is very direct and makes immediately makes clear who is doing what.

OK, so enough English memories and lessons – how does this all relate to mobile apps? Mobile apps would do well to follow these same elements of style. Great mobile apps should be succinct to the point in their layout. They should also allow subjects (users) to quickly act and not belabor the task at hand. It should be obvious what the point is and how to execute it. Mobile apps have the added challenge of needing to perform in a very small space. Great mobile apps promote productivity through recognizing the limitations of their medium, namely the size of the screen, and work to allow the most concise experience.

Unfortunately, to some degree, we are still in the draft, red-ink, and re-do stage of mobile maturity. Many apps and app developers are still not thinking in the mobile form-factor mindset. They don’t design and code for screen and workflow minimalism.  Users should be able to connect, act, and leave. They should be able to get their task done as quickly and efficiently as possible with the least required touches to the screen. Being able to do so is the beginning step in mobile productivity. This will take time and revisions. Apps that figure this out first in their domain will have a higher probability of success. In order for business to really leverage the consumerization of IT and the BYOD phenomenon mobile apps need to reconcile their functionality to their screen size. This will allow users to find their true mobile productivity potential.

What mobile app do you find efficient and productive? Got any memories of Elements of Style? I would love to hear from you. Post a comment and let me know!

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5 Must Ask Questions for Enterprise Social Media

With Salesforce.com’s purchase of Rypple last week there has been a spike in discussions regarding the value of social media in the enterprise. Many individuals are touting the arrival, benefits, and legitimacy of social media in a business context. Everyone seems to be quite giddy over social apps. They are the cure du jour for our Human Capital Management ills. Somehow this social media stuff is going to make us all more efficient and productive as organizations. Heck if social media can predict the stock market – why can’t it make us better as a business – especially when it’s couple d with the always-connected mobile workforce who can press the ‘like’ button faster than a lab rat?  I too see definite advantages and new possibilities with the introduction of social functionality into enterprise mobile applications. However, once you cut through the hype, all of those likes, tweets, and badges are just a collection of data.  And reams of data, be it social or otherwise, amounts to very little in value if it cannot be wielded correctly. In the end, social media and its associative data will only add to information overload if a clear vision and purpose are missing.

Mobile enterprise applications are beginning to include some level of social functionality. These social app features are marketed as a way of raising your intelligence quotient and making you a smarter more nimble organization. In this way social media business applications resemble Business Intelligence solutions. Both BI and social media apps are billed as ways to get the upper hand and gain insight. Knowing if someone likes a project idea, has an expertise, won a badge, or was on a comment thread is the same from a data perspective as the cost, color, and cut of clothing inventory database. Instead of being attributes associated with the product object they are attributes associated with the person object. Social media apps offer insight into people data. They can provide a new and valuable stream of data to organizations if only they are leveraged correctly.

I have noticed, however, in the attempt to make it seem all-too-easy social media apps are becoming the lazy-business’s BI solution; just add people, some like buttons – and presto – something useful on a pretty chart will appear (and we all love pretty charts). Trouble is, do you even know if the chart is relevant for your organization? Is your organization just along for the ride with the pre-configured template? Are you really going to rely on it to make decisions in your business?

If you really want to see a ROI from your enterprise social initiatives here’s my advice. Approach it just as thoughtfully as you would any BI project.  Do you know why you even need social media? Does your organization have a sense of what it is trying to accomplish through collection and analysis of social data? Bring your vision for social media into focus by answering these 5 concrete questions:

  • What data will you collect?
  • How will the data be sliced/diced? (By Time, Project, Group, etc)
  • Who is going to look at this data?
  • How often is this data going to be looked at?
  • Most Importantly – What are the key decisions the results will drive?

The real value of social media apps in your business lies in their ability to help you decide; to allow you to make more informed decisions. This is true not only for social media apps but any business intelligence apps as well. What action will your organization take based on the frequent review of the data? If you don’t know how you will take concrete action against results then you will not find social media very profitable for your business. In fact, it will probably just be a distraction and cause people to be less productive. But a clear vision for social media, relevant data, and timely execution by the right people can be very powerful and profitable.

What decisions are you taking from social media in your business? Post a comment and let me know.

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2 Things Every Great Mobile App Must Have

What makes a great app? To be more specific – what makes a really great mobile app?  As I have written in some of my previous posts there are unique challenges with mobility in terms of form factor (which is just a fancy way of saying device size) and what it means to be productive. These challenges are not always accounted for. Many mobile app designs suffer from poor layouts, confusing functionality, or focus more on presentation and looking good over everything else. However, if an app design misses the mark from a productivity standpoint you have nothing more than a pink bow on the fence of a feedlot.

Enterprises are quickly moving away from desktop-based apps as their sole operational interface and towards an always-connected on-the-go experience. For many application developers it will be challenging, at first, to make this transition into the mobile arena. Desktop, and to the same extent web, applications designed for large screen resolutions have been the dominant paradigm and have so much momentum that it is taking time and a lot of track to stop that train. A product’s mobile UI is often an after-thought; an ‘oh yeah – now let’s make this work for mobile’ conversation. Because of inexpensive monitors application developers have become accustomed to vast expanses of screen real-estate as their playfield for form, function, and beauty. Large screens are ubiquitous and as a result we have become as sloppy in our layout. Just as we went from really tight memory management to bloatware we have become footloose and fancy-free with taking up UI space. Great mobile apps will take this into consideration -but how?

Great mobile apps combine two simple application design/programming concepts – Use Cases and CRUD – and correctly leverage them on every screen. These are straight forward ideas that consistently get sidelined over user-interface look and feel. So for you non-developer types, here is what the concepts mean:

  1. A use case is a description of how a user performs a task.
  2. CRUD is an acronym for Create, Read, Update, Delete

Great you say – now how does that help me determine what is a great mobile app? It is simple. A great mobile app is designed in such a way that on any given screen users can only do one of two things:

  1. Select a task to do (Use Case)
  2. Create, Read, Update, or Delete data on a single task(CRUD)

Not all tasks are created equal either. Great mobile apps also take into consideration which tasks make sense for mobile and which ones don’t. The app should be designed in such a way that any given screen focuses on only one of those two areas – Use Case or CRUD.  Trying to pack anything more into a single screen will result in (pardon my colloquialism) crap. But you want Use Cases and CRUD, not crap. Apps that hold to this design can’t go wrong. Wrap it in a sexy User Interface for increased “stickiness” (as they say in the marketing world)  and you’ll probably have a home-run. However, a great mobile app must have #1 and #2. Even with a boring User Interface it would still be a great app in terms of productivity.

Here is mobile app nirvana. A great mobile app is so intuitive that it requires zero user training. This means people are productive from the moment they encounter the app. This limits initial training costs and doesn’t require much on-going user support. A great app should be so intuitive that users can’t screw up working with it – and believe me it doesn’t take much for them to do so. Think of a bank ATM as your target. If an app is more complex than an ATM then you don’t have a great app. It’s not that the app can’t do complex things it just needs to be simple to interact with. A great app also means an organization will see a much quicker ROI. As well, the less time spent on interfacing with an application will translate into more time users can focus on other more critical tasks in your organization.

Why does knowing these two must-haves matter? Chances are you are probably not a mobile app developer. If you are, use these guidelines as a starting point to help make a great app for the mobile ecosystem. For the rest of you here’s why it matters; today there are more than a million mobile apps available for download with that number increasing rapidly. Yes – many of them are just for fun and these guidelines don’t necessarily apply. But there is an ever increasing focus on business productivity. Organizations are beginning to assemble mobile strategies and are looking at the different areas where mobile apps make sense. Once you are able to narrow it down to a handful – what criteria are you going to use to select a winner? End users need to be able to sift through the noise and find those apps that will propel them forward as an organization. Educated end-users will demand better apps and drive innovation. This will help mature the market quicker and provide better returns for you.

Got an example of what you think is a great mobile app for productivity? Post a comment and let me know.

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The Big Lie – Consumerization of IT

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The ever increasing wave of Consumerization of IT is driven by employees who are purchasing their own devices and demanding access to systems and data. They may be from home, at the client site, or on the road. IT is capitulating to meet user demand. This “purchasing” and associative “demand” as the driving force behind the Consumerization of IT is consistently repeated throughout the press, blogosphere, and twitter. Yet hardware purchases by employees have been around for a number of years – netbooks are a great example of this – but there was not much talk of the Consumerizatoin of IT. Why begin now?  Additionally, IT has historically leaned toward the side of standardized hardware with secure and limited access over extensive device support with wide system access. Why the big change now? What is so special about the devices employees are buying that it would make sense to change best practices? The difference lies in the fact that laptops, netbooks, and first generation tablets fit nice and neat into the current understanding of systems interaction. They offered no challenge to the status quo of how we work. For all their portability they were a tethered desktop user-interface experience.

When you boil it down the Consumerization of IT has everything to do with how we interact with systems and very little to do with the “who” is purchasing them and what they are asking for. Furthermore, the explosive growth in the Consumerization of IT is driven by the latest versions of smartphones and their access to the cloud ecosystem (i.e. apps and data). As a result of the phone’s size and form factor there is a willingness to completely step away from the desktop user-interface norm and reimagine user interaction with systems, data, and processes. This is the primary driver behind the seismic shift being attributed to the Consumerization of IT. It really should be a capabilities discussion rather than a purchasing one. We are restructuring the way we work by greatly simplifying systems interactions and we can’t get enough of it.

The Consumerization of IT is happening because we, as IT professionals, want it to as much as “consumers” do and we kid ourselves otherwise. Big deal you say – who cares – so what if I want it as much (probably even a little more) than everyone else? Here is why this is important – If we are locked into the mindset that the Consumerization of IT is just about who purchased the device and wants to use it for access to the network, then we run the chance of failing to fully examine all the possibilities of working beyond our current experience. If our best root-cause explanation for Consumerization of IT is because of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) then we are not prepared to take full advantage of a potentially better way of doing things though improved, simpler, and reimagined user interfaces connected to the private and public Cloud. The big lie in the Consumerization of IT is that it doesn’t’ really have anything to do with consumers and has much more to do with how we work – and more appropriately how we want to work. So why do we continue to talk about it as a procurement and request proposition?

The from factor of these devices demand a simpler more intuitive way of interaction.  This in itself will drive efficiency. It doesn’t mean that all processes are a good fit for this new approach but many are and many can benefit dramatically from this re-envisioned approach. So don’t be afraid to be imaginative and think about your business, its systems, and processes anew. Approach this opportunity in a holistic manner rather than through hodge-podge requests. Where could you go as an organization? How can you leverage improved system interactions to get ahead internally? How could you use it to get ahead of your competition? Remember, if we accept that at the root of the Consumerization of IT is recognizing there is a potentially improved way of systems interaction, then what can we do to engage the workforce, make them better at what they do, and make your clients really want to do business with you? What is going to make you stand out? How are you currently living the lie of Consumerization of IT? Are you just reacting to user demands or are you seizing the opportunity?  How are you letting it drive your thinking? Own the way forward and lead the charge ahead of your “consumers”!

 

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No (real) App is an Island – Part III – Mobile Device Management

So you have put together a mobility plan, have made it known to your organization, and are now ready to execute –how can you get everyone going in the same direction? Managing the mobile devices in your organization doesn’t have to be an exercise in herding cats. When it comes to Mobile Device Management (MDM) there’s an app for that! Actually there are quite a few apps for that. The number of solutions for Mobile Device Management feels a little overwhelming when you really start to look.  But to put your mind at ease I’ll tell you a secret the MDM solutions won’t tell you in their marketing literature – there are a limited number of options for remote management that each device offers. Since MDM solutions manage the same devices they all have to work with those same limitations. There are many similarities in functionality between the solutions and you can put this functionality into several categories.  With that in mind here is a guide you can leverage in selecting the right MDM solution options for you.

DEVICE SUPPORT

The first aspect you will want to compare is device platform support. Which device platforms are you planning on supporting; Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Symbian, WebOS, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7? Do you plan on leveraging your MDM solution to manage tablet and laptops as well? Is there a minimum version of the OS that you will require? Are you providing the devices to users in your organization or are you going the Bring Your Own Device Route (which lowers liability, cost, and control while increasing support). If you go BYOD you would do well to survey everyone for what devices they have to at least get a sense of what the current ecosystem looks like.  This will allow you to being to align solutions to your reality.

APP SUPPORT

To begin with do you even know what apps you want to leverage in your organization? What support can the different MDM solutions offer in terms of provisioning, licensing, distribution, and removal of apps? Some MDM solutions offer more of a marketplace experience where users can select the approved applications while others just push required apps to the devices. Are you going to allow users to install apps outside of an approved list as they see fit? Many MDM solutions offer the ability to white/blacklist apps. This will become especially important as a response to security vulnerabilities in the future to keep unknowing users away from problem apps.  Lastly if/when an employee leaves does the MDM solution assist in removal of apps? This will help keep app licenses in compliance.

DATA

Data is a big one – arguably the most important area. Data is what really matters to your organization in terms of value and where your biggest security risk lies. Depending on your level of security requirements this could be the main differentiator for organizations when looking for a MDM solution. First of all do you want to allow personal and corporate data on the same device? Can the data be mixed? Some MDM solutions allow for segregation of personal and corporate data. Next does your data need to be encrypted? At what level? MDM solutions offer varying levels of encryption from full device to none at all. Determine what level you require and narrow your selection to solutions that offer that level. Are you interested in data backup? Some MDM Solutions allow for data from mobile devices to be automatically stored offline. This is a feature that will grow in importance as mobile devices are used more and more for productivity.  Lastly, in the unfortunate event of a lost or stolen phone, can the data be remotely wiped from the phone?

IT MANAGEMENT SUPPORT

You may also want to look at IT management features that the different MDM solutions provide. These features include the ability to enforce security policy rules, Active Directory integration, data usage alerts, inventory management, etc . These features fall into the ease of use category and will likely improve as the MDM solution space matures. You also want to consider your hosting needs both present and future. Do you require on-premise or a SaaS model? Does the solution allow you to migrate easily from one to the other?

KEEPING AN EYE OUT

There are a group of features that many MDM solutions offer that seem to fit into some sort of Orwellian Big Brother category. These are features such as communication capture (capturing calls, texts, and data) , geolocation tracking, and remote control. Paranoia aside, these features do provide needed functionality of a non-nefarious nature. Understanding how you intend to use these features and disclosing that to all users in your Mobile Policy is the best practice.

Leveraging mobility in your organization can and will be of great value. Having a plan on how you will use it and how it can be managed will assure for a concerted effort that derives the most value for your organization. Conversely approaching mobility in a grow-as-you-go fashion will leave you with a lot to clean up later and increase your risk exposure.  How do you plan to use mobility?

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No (real) App is an Island – Part II – Got a Plan?

In Part I we looked at the disadvantages of having employees leverage readily available “productivity” apps from their device marketplaces. This coupled with the app’s isolated stores of data will end up costing organizations time and money. As an organization you can deter this by proactively developing a plan for mobility, communicating that with the organization, and then putting it into action.

Developing a plan can sometimes be a stumbling block to beginning. I have put together this 5 W’s outline to help you with your planning. The 5 W’s is just Who, What, When, Where, and Why. The 5 W’s are questions in each of those areas that touch upon critical points that need to be decided. Use this as your starting point to understand how a mobile workforce will benefit your organization.

We’ll start at the end with the WHY for it is of utmost importance to understand where you are going before you think about how to get there.

WHY

Why, as a business, is mobile important for us? Where does mobile make sense – what aspects of our business are well suited for mobility? Are we trying to deliver better service, create additional revenue opportunities, allow for extended data access, offer convenience for employees, or give customers insight?  What is the end goal we trying to accomplish as a business though a mobile platform? Make sure you have a reason in mind. There is nothing worse than having technology for technology sake.

WHO

Who do we intend will be using a mobile offering – employees, customers, potential customers, contractors? Will it be everyone in these groups or just a subset, for example just full-time employees? Do we need to be concerned about who is accessing data (think HIPPA, Credit Card, PII data)? Who can see what data? How do we assure the right people are working with the right thing?

WHAT

What data or processes do we plan on accessing through the mobile platform? How do we plan on identifying apps that can meet these requirements? What mobile platforms do we need/want to support? What is our process for evaluating these apps? How will the apps we use integrate with our current and future processes? Am I able to export/accesses data at a later date if I change applications? What is the backup model for the app? Who owns the data? What is the Total Cost of Ownership?

WHEN

When do we anticipate users would be accessing the data or functionality? Does it need to be available 24/7? Does any data we intend to distribute need to be real-time? What is the Service Level Agreement and uptime requirements for our mobility strategy? Do we need to offer user support during business and/or off hours? If a defect is discovered how timely can it be resolved? Are there any restrictions as to when the system will be offline?

WHERE

Where are users planning on accesses the data and processes from? Is it on a limited basis or all the time? Do we have a globally distributed team who needs to collaborate or individuals accessing from client sites? Will users have access to just handheld devices where they are? Does the apps we are looking at work well in that small form factor? Are the users remote all of the time and intend on a mobile device being their primary access?

SUCCESS!

Creating the mobility plan is the first step. Now get the word out! Communicate it frequently with your entire group of users. Collect their feedback and make adjustments to your plan. Mobility is a rapidly evolving space and you’ll need to adjust as well.  Create a process to evolve as technology and opportunity allows. This will shut the door to random one-off pieces of functionally that will cause problems down the road.

In order to be successful you also need to measure. Establish criteria for success.  Do you know how you are going to measure success? What are the metrics you are going to measure? Is it based on customer satisfaction, revenue, employee access? How are you going to collect these metrics? How often are you going to evaluate the plan and its metrics to make necessary adjustments?

There are now more mobile device connections in the United States than there are people. As the growth of capable devices expands it is inevitable that employees and clients alike will expect some level of interaction with your products or services. Employees and employers are increasingly embracing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and there is danger for organizations that don’t have a cohesive strategy in place to have mobility evolve uncontrolled with challenging and costly results.

Next I will discuss how to put this plan into action through, MDM, Mobile Device Management.

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