Category Archives: Future

Mobile Has to Matter

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.


Get more from Benjamin Robbins on Twitter at @PaladorBenjamin and at


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Enterprise Mobility is No Game

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?

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

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Smartwatches are NOT the Next Big Thing

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.

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Is Your Smartphone Making you Stupid?

If you are over the age of 30 you can probably recall the days of having to memorize phone numbers. You probably also can remember having to struggle to re-fold a paper map. You perhaps even gave directions that included something to the tune of, “1.2 miles after the big yellow sign turn left onto Jackson Road.” However those days are long gone. Mobile has obliterated entire swaths of cognitive functions. No longer burdened by such paltry mental tasks, we rely heavily on our mobile devices to handle such inconsequential details.

Mobile devices provide a level of connectedness and convenience never before experienced by the masses. Late for a meeting? With just a click of a button you can instantly let everyone know you are running 5 minutes late. Trying to find that new cool restaurant? Not only can your mobile device give you turn-by-turn directions but it also warns you not to order the Tuna Tartare.

But what does this do to our intellectual function? As we supplant memorization tasks to technology are we better or worse off because of it? Is there value to memorizing phone numbers or appointments in our calendar/diary? I would bet good money that your day would go seriously sideways if you lost your mobile device.

Storing information “off-site” from our brain has been an evolving (and derided) practice since the time Gutenberg. Our brains have limited memorization capacity. The ability to save information outside our brain is the biological equivalent to a memory upgrade. Besides allow us to remember more than humanly possible, our bodies are not immortal, so the ability capture thoughts outside of ourselves allow them to persist beyond our lifetime.

Another advantage to leveraging mobile devices and services is the unreliability of human recollection.  When it comes to memorizing large chunks of information we are good, but not great. We forget certain pieces over time.  From this perspective a pointer to the information is infinitely better than attempting to remember the information. That is – it is much easier to remember where you captured and left all the information than remembering all the information itself.

By offloading some of the brain drain of memorizing menial details, we create the space to conceptualize larger sets of data into higher order ideas. Much the same way that we can work of higher order math problems because we can use a calculator rather than memorize multiplication tables, mobile device create the opportunity to spend time thinking about bigger and more complex problems. But do we?

I have noticed major changes in my behavior in how I live, work, and travel. For example, I recently attended a conference in San Francisco. In trips past before the days of mobile proliferation I would have had looked up the schedule for the plane and train, reviewed directions to the hotel and conference, as well as review the conference schedule.

But for this trip I had registered for the event, bought the ticket, and accommodations months before and threw links to the information in a calendar/diary appointment. I didn’t review a single thing before leaving. I didn’t even look at the departure time for the very early 5AM flight until I was getting into bed and setting the alarm on my phone. When the taxi driver asked which airline I was flying I had to look at my phone. When I arrived at SFO I clicked on the link for the conference to get the address and used the GPS on my phone to orient myself.

My old self would have surely panicked in the above scenario upon realizing I had no idea where I was going. But my mobile self had no concerns what-so-ever. I nonchalantly sauntered into the convention only to realize I didn’t know the agenda either. Luckily I just clicked the link, decided which session to attend, and off I went.

If you take this experience as a model for mobile lifestyle it is easy to see that decision making and action being delayed until the last possible moment. How are using the extra mental cycles? How do we fill the space and time that the convenience of mobility brings? Are we experiencing a dramatic shift in how the human population uses its mental capacity?

What is potentially lost is time spent being able to combine ideas, concepts, and locations. This sense of delayed implementation does not allow time for ideas to “simmer” in our heads. We tend to just react more rather than think. Turn left now, go to this meeting now, and respond to this message popped up in front of you.

The hope is that by delaying this decision and action process we can collect as much information as possible to be able to make better decisions. But what does this instant answer technology say about the value of thinking over possible paths? If we rely too heavily on technology do we fully grasp concepts and ideas? Is someone or something always right there to tell us the answer? Do we lose the ability to synthesize information? What do you think, are we worse off intellectually because of smartphones?











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ICYMI – Mobile Trends Through 2014

MobileTrends2014If you were not able to attend the webinar this past week on Mobile Trends Through 2014 with Bzur Haun and myself don’t worry – it was recorded for your convenience! We had a great time, turn-out, and content. We even through in a crazy prediction or two.

Watch it here and let me know what you think!

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Mobile Master Oliver Bussmann on the Future of Enterprise Mobility

What have you done lately on your iPad? Can you run one of the world’s largest enterprises on it? What’s going to happen when Mobile and Big Data collide? I got a chance to sit down and disucss these questions with CIO of SAP, Oliver Bussman. Bussmann shared some great insights on  mobility, the enterprise, and the future. Be sure to check out what he had to say in the first Mobile Masters post on the Guardian Mobile-Only site. Feel free to ping me if you have a nomination for other mobile masters – those who excel in the use of mobility in the enterprise.

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Consumerization, BYOD, and Employee Led Innovation – Live Webcast Recap

On Wednesday September 19th I hosted a really great live webcast in Chicago on Consumerization of IT, BYOD, and Employee Led Innovation. My two panelists, Steve Duncan from Trend Micro and Ron Hyde from Dell, and I had a fun round-table discussion on the issues facing organizations of all sizes. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the live webcast, don’t fret, you can watch the recorded version here.

You can also still participate in a Tweet Chat happening tomorrow Wednesday September 26th at 26, 2012 at 12PM CDT (1PM ET, 10AM PT) with host Ramon Ray (@RamonRay). The topic will be “Debunking 4 myths in consumerization of IT. More details can be found here.

I fielded several questions from the twitter and blogasphere before the live webcast. To close the loop on Q & A here are the questions and the responses. Thanks to all who participated!

1. How should companies think beyond the app (or the device) when developing Employee Led Innovation (ELI?) What is the role of the employee in ELI beyond the insatiable appetite for cool devices?

Steve Duncan: Companies have to take a holistic approach to ELI and not just create policies and technology frameworks for devices.  It starts with creating a structured and continuous method for collecting ideas/initiatives and reacting to them.  Every initiative needs to be answered by management such that employees remain motivated to participate.  Some times that means identifying the right people to evaluate the merits of every idea or initiative.  Once employees know that Management and IT are really listening and reacting, the initiatives will flow.

2. How do you establish and maintain a collaborative attitude between IT and the rest of the company? 

Steve Duncan: It’s the job of IT to create the environment that allows employees to innovate.  That starts with developing and publishing boundaries for how technology can be used inside and outside of the company.  It has to be backed up by providing a technology environment that lets employees to choose their applications and devices without risking loss of company data or breeching security.  By providing security and provisioning support for employee initiatives, an environment of collaboration would be established.

Ron Hyde responds to both questions:

One way to ensure success would be to establish an ELI committee, made up of both end-users and IT staff. Ideally, this committee would be the ‘voice of the company’. This purpose of this group would be to jointly collaborate on key corporate initiatives around mobility. The committee will consist of IT savvy end-users who are familiar with the mobile devices and software applications of the ELI. The IT department would provide folks that are focused on delivering and managing these mobile devices and apps. Together the end-users would outline objectives and the IT department could prepare for them. By working together, both sides can craft timelines, develop a budget, and muster resources. This would help set expectations on both sides. Ultimately the committee would introduce solutions that provide value to the corporate end-user and be effectively managed by IT.

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Filed under Ecosystem, Future, Mobile, Security, Strategy