Tag Archives: mobile productivity

Stop Wasting Your Time with Mobile

I hate receipts. Not just hate them, I loathe them. They are nothing more than pocket clutter—an anachronistic holdover from an analog age that I can’t wait to disappear. I can envision myriad ways that mobility can improve upon the lowly paper receipt. Electronic payment seems like the obvious answer. Simply walk up to the register, tap/scan, sign, and you are done. No fuss, no muss, and most importantly, no receipt. But, as much as I detest receipts, the current experience of electronic payment is massively underutilizing the platform’s potential. It is akin to using a tower crane to pick up a penny. Mobility must drastically alter the experience or it risks being a waste of time and resources.

I live in Seattle, home of the famed coffee juggernaut Starbucks. Here you can find a Starbucks coffee shop on every corner in downtown, and sometimes two or three. So I was pleased when I learned that Starbucks was partnering with Square Wallet to accept mobile payments. I thought my afternoon coffee experience was going to leap into the future. After the much-publicized bumps in deployment were worked out, I was disappointed to find that there wasn’t much difference in the payment experience. Instead of pulling cash or card out of my pocket I had to pull out my phone. I didn’t have to sign anything but I did have to select the location and slide to pay. Yes, it was a mobile experience, but it had not really made a difference in my life.

Simply replacing the existing process with same process done via a mobile device usually yields no benefit. Yeah, it’s slick and sexy, but it’s only managed to change which piece of plastic we pull out of our pocket. Instead of grabbing a debit card, I grab my phone. In terms of the steps, the experience is basically the same. It lacks innovation, is tied to the way it has been always done, and only puts a fresh coat of paint on an old outhouse.

Besides the fact that you are not improving the approach, you are missing an opportunity to alter the experience, to find efficiencies in the overall process that only a mobile platform could afford. I pick on this aspect of consumer tech to make a point. However, enterprises are no better off. They are making the same mistakes, or worse, in their approach to mobility. In fact, many enterprises aren’t even making it sexy, it’s just the same bad process displayed in a much smaller window. They mistakenly think they are “going mobile” by offering a mobile interface when all they’ve really done is gone small.

You can see where the enterprise would get it wrong. It is too easy a trap for an engineer or analyst collecting business requirements to just ask how the end user is currently doing such and such a task. From that point it just gets coded that way. This is how processes become entrenched. Along with that, many end users worry that efficiency and improvement mean elimination. They are concerned that their job might be cut and don’t realize they might get to work on higher-order problems.

Luckily, the current Starbucks mobile payment experience isn’t the final word. In fact, their mobile payment partner, Square, actually has further functionality that is not yet implemented at Starbucks. Square allows users to set frequented merchants for Hands-Free Checkout. This means you can walk into the store, select what you want, simply say, “Put it on John Smith,” and walk out. Your purchase is then applied to your credit card. Now that is a change in experience. I don’t have to pull anything out of my pocket, I don’t have to sign anything, I don’t have to bother with a receipt. I get what I need and am on my way in a much more efficient manner.

Enterprises should take their cue from this approach to a change in the experience and efficiency. Some enterprises get it and leverage mobility as an opportunity and excuse for a business process re-do. Others only use mobility as a facade. The trick is to stop spending time looking at how we work and start looking at what we are working on. It is easy to get stuck in the “how” rut. This narrows the field of vision to intermediate steps. It restricts our approach to the tactical. But enterprises need to think like Square and look for strategic changes that re-imagine the work experience based on the capabilities of the platform rather than the way the process currently works.

Enterprises must take the time to look at what the end objective is. The resultant change may be bigger in scope than imagined. It may involve business process, it may involve new infrastructure, it may even involve an org change. But to wholesale just swap out the current process to fit on the screen of a mobile device is a waste of resources and, most importantly, opportunity. Those that get it will soar; those that don’t will sink. You will gain very little through porting the same tired process from the PC over to mobile. Stop wasting your time with mobile. If you can’t do it right, don’t bother. You are better off with your existing processes. Like a paper receipt, at least people will know how to ignore it and toss it aside.

Benjamin Robbins is a co-founder at Palador, a mobile strategy and application consultancy located in Seattle, WA. He can be followed on Twitter @PaladorBenjamin.

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FINALLY – A Visio Alternative on Android!

As many of you know I am on a Mobile-Only adventure. Yet, one of the biggest reasons I still have to access a PC via RDP is because I need to use Microsoft Visio. Well, that may be coming to an end. This past week I stumbled across DroidDia. DroidDia is a diagramming app for Android that allow users to create flowcharts, org charts, venn diagrams, network diagrams, etc  – many of the same functions that are available in Microsoft Visio.  This is fantastic news for mobile productivity.

As in Visio, shapes are key to being able to represent your information. DroidDia comes stock with many of the essential shapes – flowchart, computers, people, places, etc. If you don’t like the ones provided, or have custom ones that you want to use, it is possible to select them from images on the phone. Here are a few screenshots of the shapes:

Computer Shapes

People Shapes

Flowchart Shapes

To add a shape to the page you just long-hold on a square on the sheet, then select the type of shape you need. You can quickly add and move shapes around on the page. To take additional actions on the shape, you only need to long-hold on the shape which will bring up the shape context menu. You can then perform functions such as copy, resize, change properties, etc.

Shape Context Menu

To draw a line from one shape to the next you click the line button and then long-hold the desired connecting shape. Once the line is drawn you can bring up the properties screen of the line to change end-points, size, color, etc.

You can easily add text to the page as well:

Diagrams can even be exported as a PNG for sharing with others. DroidDia looks fantasic when my smartphone is connected to a monitor. DroidDia is currently in alpha but it already shows some great promise as an alternative for Visio on Android. This has the potential to be a fantastic productivity app – allowing users of mobile devices to create content and not just consume it.  Be sure to check it out!
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.

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Mobile Productivity from MWC12 with the Samsung Galaxy Beam

Got a chance to test out the new Samsung Galaxy Beam this AM. Not only is it a phone, but it also has a built-in 15 lumens projector. This device is slick. Not to mention that it is totally in-line with my penchant for mobile-only.

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Samsung also includes a slide display app that would allow you to use the device to show your PowerPoint slides in a meeting. The app allows for on screen annotations as well.

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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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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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