I was honored to find that I was named as part of the Forbes article 25 Things Influential People Do Better Than Anyone Else. Check out the article and see if you agree!
Tag Archives: mobile
This article was originally published on Sept 3 2011 on HP’s September issue of Discover Performance
Mobile influencer Benjamin Robbins describes how enterprises can approach mobility to improve the enterprise, revitalize IT, and, most importantly, serve the user. There isn’t an enterprise on the planet today that doesn’t recognize the value of mobility—not just to customers but also to employees. But mobile has emerged as such an important way of transacting business that some organizations get psyched out when they try to define their approach it. We spoke with Benjamin Robbins, co-founder of enterprise mobility consultancy Palador, on how enterprises should think about mobile and the role that IT leadership can play in a self-service world of cloud and automation. Perhaps surprisingly, he said that, in some ways, mobile is no big deal.
Q: How do most enterprises view mobile? How does that contrast with how they should view mobile?
Benjamin Robbins: Companies should not look at mobile as a separate, siloed piece of technology. Mobile should, at its core, support the company’s objectives. Companies don’t have a laptop strategy or a PC strategy. Mobile is no different—it’s just a technology that needs to support the business. The way to avoid that is to always ask why. Why are we doing this? How does it support whatever aspect of the business we want to support? How does it help move us forward?
Q: Why do most enterprises have a hard time seeing mobile as just another tool in the toolbox?
BR: People get excited and think of it as special because anytime, anywhere connectivity to apps and services is a different compute paradigm. When you’re at a client site, you used to say, “I can send you that file when I get back to the office.” But mobile shortens the cycle. Whenever there’s a need, the ability to execute is much shorter. That’s exciting for organizations, but they have to stick to the core mission and ensure that mobility supports those core business processes.
Q: Where are enterprises messing up mobility?
BR: They’re tripping up in a few areas. First, there’s the traditional way of doing IT that has a really PC-centric sense of things like security and network. But now you have people bringing their own devices to work, and IT doesn’t always want to make the shift to handle it. Second, employees can now be their own IT. Everybody doesn’t have to have the same app—maybe you like QuickOffice, maybe I like something else—and IT doesn’t intuitively know how to handle that. Third, the whole idea of “network” is changing. Network used to be a physically bounded thing you had to plug into. All of that is changing, and organizations are tripping up because the mentality of IT isn’t changing.
Q: That seems like an issue for IT leadership.
BR: Yes, I think enterprises need to get to a place where IT leadership understands that IT’s role is changing but it’s not being eliminated. Business units have the knowledge and budget to drive services they need. However, they lack the technical heft. IT’s role is to enable those services, guide those services, understand existing capabilities in the marketplace, and play a support role in implementation. Business units don’t normally have the expertise to manage those things long term, so they need a partnership with IT. You really need IT leaders who don’t view their primary job function as cost cutting. It’s got to be about enabling people, not saving money.
Q: How does a visionary IT leader get the CIO and CFO to agree that cutting costs, or languishing with flat budgets, is not the way to manage IT?
BR: It is very simple. It involves the right attitude combined with the right metrics. First, organizations need a CIO and CFO who understand that there is a shift taking place, where technology is first being approached as an operational expense rather than a capital expense. Businesses need to exit the business of owning technology and spend the cycles instead on figuring out how services will advance the core business. This eliminates the attitude of treating technology as just another utility to be managed, like electricity or garbage. Second, as with any technical project, the “why” must be tied to ROI. CIOs should be able to answer how any project, be it mobile or not, advances the mission of the organization, and what sort of metrics are being used to measure the success of the investment. Mobile in no way should eliminate the need for fiduciary responsibility. The CIO should have no trouble drawing a line between technical budgets and organizational need.
Q: What kind of expertise will IT bring to the table, now that the business can generally help itself to the services it needs?
BR: The BUs get really excited about something, but might not see the bigger picture. One BU might get super-excited about a service and dump a bunch of data into it, and use it for a year before realizing it’s not what they need. Then they have to get that data out and don’t know how. IT can help with that—and help prevent that from happening in the first place. Plus, you need people who can go deep into the data. Data streams are at the core of business value, so it’s imperative to have people who can manipulate and manage data beyond an Excel level of expertise.
Q: You spent a full year working only on a mobile device. What were the biggest insights you gleaned that might be helpful to enterprises working on a mobile strategy?
BR: I think that organizations, as part of their mobile policy, should advocate that it’s really important to maintain a healthy connected balance. If you say “we don’t need mobile,” you’ll fail, because competition will fly by you and you won’t know what happened. But by the same token, if you expect people to be connected 24/7, you’ll burn people out, and the organization will suffer, too. If you send someone an email, does it really matter that they get back to you in two minutes vs. two hours? The important thing about mobile isn’t making people use it all the time—it’s using it in the right instances. Here’s an example. There’s a medical device company and their sales team had to get in front of surgeons. They found that with mobile devices, they could get right in front of surgeons while they’re scrubbing up for the next surgery. You couldn’t do that with computers, but with a tablet you can do that. A mobile strategy shouldn’t be about being constantly connected; it should be about using the technology in the right way at the right time.
EA games (Electronic Arts, Inc.) recently released Plants vs. Zombies 2. Plants vs. Zombies has to be one of my favorite games to play on my mobile device. For those of you that don’t know, Plants vs Zombies is what’s known as a tower defense game. The object is to eliminate enemies as they attempt to cross a map. This is done by strategically placing artillery, mines, walls, etc. in the path of the approaching enemy. In the case of Plants vs. Zombies, instead of artillery, players place objects like pea-shooting plants to defeat zombies as they try to reach your house and eat your brains.
This follow-up to the extremely popular first version achieved over 16 million downloads in less than a week. However, there is one catch—it’s only available on iOS. For those of us on the Android platform, which by the way has almost 80% of the global mobile market share, we are out of luck. And with no Android release date in sight, non-iOS users are left in the lurch (bad zombie pun intended).
There are definitely financial reasons for this approach with consumer apps. For example, iOS users spend more money on apps and in-app purchases. Also, many organizations are allowing consumerization practices to influence business methodology and decision making. However, this single OS approach to app development should, categorically, not be followed by the enterprise.
Enterprise app development must take a very broad device approach. In the world of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) there is no guarantee what devices employees will show up to work with. In order to achieve the most return on your mobile investment you should aim to support the most number of users. The allure of the simplicity and controlled nature of devices’ homogeneity is a limited strategic approach. The popular device of today will be replaced by the next cool device of tomorrow. This will lead to a never-ending cycle of playing catch-up that will be cost prohibitive.
Enterprises need to anticipate supporting the vast array of ever-changing devices on the market. Combine BYOD with the notion of the Internet of Things, and enterprises have even stronger justification for a diverse mobile approach. Anything short of a heterogeneous approach to mobile devices, apps, data, and management will paint your mobile strategy into a digital corner where you will be stuck waiting for the paint to dry.
When it comes to mobile app development, how can businesses overcome and address an ever-expanding ecosystem of device proliferation? There are platforms available for developers that do a decent job of bridging the gap between the different mobile operating systems. Platforms such as PhoneGap, Appcelerator, and Sencha allow developers to write the application in a single language that then compiles to a native app. There are some drawbacks to this approach. As much as we love the development process to be write once, use many times, cross-platform development tools still require some tweaking per OS. However, these platforms will get you 95% of the way there.
Your device management strategy needs to be heterogeneous as well. While Samsung and the upcoming iOS 7 release will offer device management and enterprise services, a single platform approach to managing devices is a step in the wrong direction. This convenience of built-in services that are vendor-based is greatly outweighed by the need to have an enterprise mobility management strategy that is flexible for the future. Organizations would be better served to explore one of the many mobile management solutions available to support a wide variety of devices, have app management, and ultimately provide information management.
As hardware diversity increases, organizations need to not only display data on various devices, but also collect data from an ever-increasing range of devices. This could include IT infrastructure, manufacturing equipment, and even display cases. The cost of embedding Internet connectivity is approaching negligible. With this hurdle removed, the matrix of connected devices in an organization is only going to grow. Is your organization prepared for this sort of dynamic addition of mobility? Are you thinking A to Z or just Apple and Android?
The consumerization of IT does not have to mean that the enterprise takes every aspect of the consumer approach and translates it directly into a business strategy. Enterprises that approach BYOD as BY-iOS-D will find they have a left-out and frustrated user base alongside an inferior position for the future. Like tower defense games such as Plants vs. Zombies, organizations need a broad heterogeneous strategy to anticipate and manage the onslaught of mobility. The inability to predict new devices and methods of connectivity necessitates this approach. There is and will be no single dominant mobile end point. Why play like there is?
I am excited to announce that I will be delivering the opening keynote, Monetizing Mobile – Mobile Strategy and Beyond, at the Mastering SAP for Mobility conference in Melbourne, Australia September 19th 2013. Mastering SAP for Mobility features an international lineup of exciting speakers and mobile influencers discussing some of the most requested and challenging mobile topics of today. In addition to the opening keynote I will be leading one of the track sessions on the mobile app development cycle.
Here are the hot topics the conference will cover:
Creating the Mobility Strategy – the Business Case, the Project & Technology
Hear case studies of companies who have demonstrated cost comparison vs. cost benefitsUndertake a benefi t analysis – evaluating mobility as an investmentQuantifying the benefits and how it can be measured in dollarsTips and tricks to build a solid business case for investment into a Mobility strategyEnsure your mobility solutions fit into the Business & IT PlansConstantly align the business drivers with the solution – ensuring “Mobility drives business change”Implementing the best structures to drive the projectHear tried and tested approaches from successful companies already down the trackInvolving the projects, business roles and technology in the overall strategyEvaluate native, hybrid and HTML5 – what are their merits in meeting your business requirements?Hear from those who have chosen their vendors and consultants – how they evaluated their decision
SAP Mobility & the Road Map
Understanding what SAP offers in the mobile space. How has the acquisition of Sybase and Syclo affected this and what is the roadmap for the future?What is SAP’s recommended deployment path and the costs and efforts involvedStandardised mobile asapps – what apps? What capability? What quality? Consumers used to a level of quality and interactivity, native vs. webThe development tools which are neededMaintenance across the SAP mobility landscape.
Effective Change Mgmt Strategies, Training & Support
Selling the system and gaining commitment and alignmentManagement buy-in generating top-down driveOvercoming fear of the system in the workforceBringing the business and IT closer together through an initiative that both are passionate aboutHow to handle changing a workforce that don’t (won’t) use smartphonesWho should support your mobility initiative, what skills are needed and how do you find them?Build a strategy to cope with the skills requirements and how to acquire themManaging the rapid training requirements of the changing technologySurviving the changing workforce issues of 24/7 availability and work/life balanceHow to support your mobility initiative, building the skills needed
Designing Your Native, Hybrid & HTML5 Mobile Apps
Understand which style of app makes sense for your organisation, the business case and your cheque bookEvaluating the various styles to build and develop a coherent mobile strategyEmbracing open source mobile technologiesHow SAP supports HTML5 frameworks like Sencha, Appcelerator and PhonegapBuilding into your team the skill sets necessary to produce and support these approaches
Use SAP tools (SUP, Syclo, NetWeaver Gateway), 3rd party tools or custom developed tools for middleware between mobile application and back-end systemsOvercoming potential performance issues caused by having mobile apps talking to the back-end systemDealing with data synchronisation issues with modifications in the back-end system and by mobile applicationHow you integrate SAP mobile solutions with NFC/M2M/GIS technologiesHow to handle security of internal systems being accessed by external mobile applications
Creating a robust security strategy, inclusive of safety, HR and privacy policies and connectivity issuesThe approaches for securing data and authenticating usersEnabling single sign on approvals across multiple appsReal examples from organisations who have overcome very sensitive information issuesConnecting back to your corporate network – the security layer you implement and still have ease of access
Communications Infrastructure & Device Management
An overview from case studies on the infrastructure hardware/software requiredUnderstanding what the investment in infrastructure could be – pricing and licensingManage the impact of the platform performance on device response/performanceExamining SAP offerings vs. partner offeringsThe impact of the Cloud
Device Selection & Management
Device management – which tools are available – what you need to know about device compatibilityChoosing the right device(s) for corporate rolloutDevice Management software – hear what’s out there such as SAP Afaria (Sybase) and alternativesChange control for device software – change control applicationsManaging the issues around BYOD – what other companies have chosenSecurity issues arising from BYOD policies
Mobile Business Intelligence
Defining the value and purpose of mobile BI in the workplaceDeliver mobile experiences on SAP BW from simple no frill models to comprehensive mobile strategiesUnderstand the generic components of a mobile solutionSAP and 3rd party mobile BI technologiesExamining native, cross-platform native, hybrid and HTML5 application frameworks
Yesterday Samsung and Qualcomm announced competing smartwatch products. This is the opening salvo of many announcements from companies such as Google, Microsoft, and purportedly Apple. Smartwatches, the latest next big thing, bring some of the capabilities we have grown to love in our smartphones and place them conveniently our wrist. But do smartwatches really deserve to be called the next big thing?
We are quickly moving into an age where the information we need access to will be displayed seamlessly on any number of devices. Some of these displays will be big, such as monitors and TVs. Some will be small, such as smartwatches and phones, and others in between. However, the end display will only be important to the point that it will dictate how a user can practically interact with the information that is being displayed. If done properly, the end device and its operating system should fade seamlessly into the background and be inconsequential to the user.
Years of PC dominance have conditioned us to think of computing as a self-contained entity. Our use-cases were limited to our proximity to the office. I could do computing as long as I was in the confines of my office. We crawled out of the water and onto dry land with the advent of laptops and the Internet but still needed to retreat to the PC to sustain us. In the mobile age, we have left the pond but still act and think like we are caught in the muck. We dabble with computing across simultaneous devices, but have yet to fully exploit it.
Ultimately, all these devices are just little windows into what we need, want, and should be interacting with. They provide the opportunity for a continuous computing experience. Any one device should be on hand at our convenience to fit the way we want to interact. We should treat them as disposable terminals that should bend to our needs rather than the only means possible to access and interact with the information we need.
This is where casting a single device type as the next big thing is the wrong perspective. The trouble with focusing on a single device, such as smartwatches, is that you end up isolating the use cases rather than envisioning how each fits into a bigger ecosystem. You treat each device like a PC rather than a part of an always accessible whole. It potentially loses the perspective of figuring out how the device can actually improve the lives of the end users, rather than just create another kitschy gadget that ultimately creates more headache than it’s worth.
The next big thing isn’t going to be a device, but the use-case scenarios that these connected devices, be they phones, watches, glasses, tablets, car dashboards, or flexible display, bring to bear by working in concert with other technologies. The industry as a whole would do better to focus on the bigger picture rather than the form of how the information is delivered.
Case in point — when the ground began to shift under the music industry’s feet thanks to digital file compression and the Internet, the industry doubled down on locking in the status quo experience. They were only capable of thinking of the end user experience in terms of broadcasting — mass distribution via radio stations and CDs. But the world was quickly moving away from broadcasting toward narrow casting, and ultimately to on-demand. The consumer continued making an end run around the industry despite its best efforts. Apple’s iTunes eventually capitalized on this trend by marrying technology with capability, thus paving the way for new forms of experience.
Forward thinking companies are doing the same in mobile that Apple did with music. They are developing use cases that will tie all of these display options together. They are thinking about the interaction between individuals and these devices. This is the Internet of things meets mobile, meets big data, meets cloud, meets contextual computing. To win it’s going to have to be one big seamless ecosystem in the end. We need to adopt a fresh perspective on how we can continually be connected to our computing needs. Calling out a device type at the next big thing sets us back.
A watch is just a paltry component of a much bigger shift in capability that will involve devices, connectivity, data, context, and cloud. Devices are a small part. Looking at the device as the next big thing is akin to thinking that a flat screen television somehow improves upon the quality of shows and content that are viewed on it. While the announcement of an additional wrist screen is great for news cycles, it must be placed into context of the bigger shift in computing that is happening around it. As the famous Zen saying goes, the finger pointing at the moon not the moon. We’d do well to separate the window from the bigger picture.
If you’re in the Seattle area 10/18, I’ll be moderating the panel discussion on “Are enterprises ready for the mobile tsunami?”
Where: Bellevue city hall, 450, 110 Av NE, Bellevue
When: Thursday, October 18, 2012 | 6 – 9 pm
Adrian Smith Partner, Ignition Partners
David Shim, Founder & CEO Placed
Benjamin Robbins, Principal Palador
Shehryar Khan, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP
More information and Register for the event here. Hope to see you in person!
I have been involved in many discussions lately about enabling employees/end-users with data. The thought is if we can get the right data in the right hands of the right people at the right time, then we’ll see interactions, efficiencies, and opportunities like we never have before. Mobile devices are going to buoy this experience as they represent an always accessible data delivery mechanism. I couldn’t agree more! There is, however, one small catch. Much of the data that business want to use/share is not stored in the same way that data needs to be consumed.
While there are tools and platforms, such as Hadoop, that work well with unstructured data, many of the data stores that exist today store data in a relational way. For those of you who are not Database Administrators, here’s a simple example of what that means. Let’s take a customer. For any given business, the idea of a customer is someone who has bought a product from the company. If the employee needed to gather information about a customer he or she would probably want information such as number of customers per products. However, in the database there is likely no such thing as a customer. Customer is a concept that could be represented in the data by the following tables:
Each table has its associative fields such as name, date, etc that would be tied to other tables by an ID (which is usually not readable just by looking at IDs). If the employee was given access to the raw data it wouldn’t make much sense to them. A customer is a business concept, not a way of storing data. Much of the data that exists today is stored in this format. If an employee wants to look up all the customers who ordered product X in the last 90 days, there is work that needs to be done to prep the data in a business consumable fashion.
This problem is multiplied when a business desires to tie together multiple systems and their associative data. The way a customer is stored in one system is probably not how it is stored in another. Each application has slight differences and has slightly different data fields. If you need to merge the data sets together from various applications it will take some tweaking on the data side.
This isn’t by any means a deal breaker, but organizations need to begin to include the effort required in conversations, planning, implementation, and support. The problem isn’t that data can’t be tied back to business concepts in a consumable state, but that data transformation is time-consuming and expensive. It takes not only application knowledge, but business knowledge with the ability to merge the two (not the natural modis operandi of Application and Database Developers). This is also an on-going process that needs to be updated with each change to the database schema.
The way that data is stored in an application is why the notion of an “information Worker’ that Microsoft touted for years never panned out. Microsoft advocated the use of many of their data consuming products by this ‘information worker’ – a quasi-technical individual capable of mining and manipulating data on their own. The trouble is, even if you have a great tool, like Microsoft’s Report Builder, which allows you to drag and drop data sets into a WYSIWYG editor, you still need data in a ready-to-use business state.
What does this mean for mobile? Many of the advantages that we were going to see with the “information work” are now being used as reasoned advantages for consuming data on the phone. For example, users will be able to perform their own analytics or users will be able to build their own apps. I’m not saying this isn’t possible, just that we need to make sure we include in our dialog the amount of effort that will be required to prep the data so that is it readily consumable by an average user. Our discussion around builing a meaningful mobile ecosystem can’t just be to say create we need to create an API and all will be copasetic. Yes, API’s will create the gateway to the data, but the data needs to be transformed into a business consumable state. Delivering a meaningful experience to the end-user will take bridging the gap between the business and structure of the data.
Benjamin Robbins is a Principal at Palador, a consulting firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobile strategy, policy, apps, and data. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.