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Mobile Impressions Are Casting Deep Shadows

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I was impressed and moved by two mobile events over the weekend of September 20, 2013; and, these events are worth discussing.

 First Impressive Event

 Many stock market and industry analysts predicted that the new Apple iPhone 5s and 5c models would lose ground and market share to Android phones in its first weekend of sales. Many of these analysts predicted maybe 5-6 million units could be sold, as based upon incomplete data from iPhone component suppliers, conjecture based upon a skewed perceptions of financial reality, and, perhaps by some, on a bit of wishful thinking, hoping that Apple will go away.

 What these so-called experts neglected to do in their research analysis was to ask Apple advocates and consumers what they thought about the matter. So what happened this first weekend of sales? Were these paid experts right on the mark?  Did their opinions stand on their own merits?

 It wasn’t even close. Their projections were incredibly off the mark. Instead of 5 million units, fanatical consumers came out in droves, and Apple sold over 9 million units in three days shattering all estimates. Even more staggering was the Apple announcement that over 200 million existing iPhone users downloaded the new iOS 7 software platform. As a point of reference, the entire population of the US is only 317 million. These are simply staggering numbers!

 Think about what this means financially. Apple revenue is projected for Q4 2013 to be close to $37 billion. As a point of perspective, this is more revenues than the 2010 tax revenues collected by three states: South Dakota ($2.58 B), Tennessee ($18.2 B), and Louisiana ($16.1 B). So, essentially a single product (iPhone) will earn more than the cumulative tax revenues in three states. That is impressive by anyone’s measure.

 In my opinion, stock market and industry analysts fall into the same category as TV weather forecasters. These may be the only two vocations where one can be wrong 50% or more of the time, and still be paid handsomely. And, more incredibly, people will actively seek out their expert opinions – knowing full well, these experts are prone to be wrong half the time. I wonder if it is too late for me to change careers.

 Second Impressive Event

 A few years ago, I was responsible for industrial mobility software sales in EMEA countries. When I first started traveling through Europe, international telephone charges, and, later, Internet connectivity fees were often the most expensive line items on hotel bills – more than the actual cost of the room in some cases.

 How fast and how far things have progressed was brought home personally by my daughter. She and her husband, and her in-laws, are vacationing in Greece, while we are babysitting her two small children in Kansas City.

 From her Athens hotel room, my daughter was able to use her iPhone to launch a free FaceTime session. She was able to see and talk to her children before they went to bed as if she were across town instead of halfway around the world. The kids were thrilled to see their parents and vice versa! The conversation they held was priceless.

 Her children will never know a world where FaceTime and video telephone calls were not normal everyday events. They will take this type of technology for granted; but, I will not.

 Business Slant

What does this means to business? Once again, Apple has strengthened its position as a world-wide desired smartphone product in a category they defined.

From an IT perspective, Apple’s strength helps solidifies BYOD strategies for at least the next 18 months, which is an IT eternity. Apple is not going away, and it is foolhardy to think otherwise.

Video telephone technology that was once the topic of comic strips like Dick Tracy, from a human perspective, is becoming common place. How can this technology be utilized in your everyday business activities? I’m betting you are surprised daily.

The future is not written yet; and, I think we’ve only witnessed the tip of the smartphone technology iceberg.

But, what we’ve already seen is really impressive!

Time Barriers Broken

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(L-R Top Row: Pocket Watch, Samsung Galaxy Gear – Side View, Samsung Galaxy Gear – Front View, Dick Tracy, Second Row: Rolex, Sony SmartWatch 2)

We live in a fast-paced mobile society that scarcely resembles the society in which our parents imagined or lived – or does it? You might be surprised. Here’s a retrospective review of wrist-worn technology.

History

Spring-powered pocket watches first date back to the 1500’s –crude by today’s standards and prone to be inaccurate. Chronographs, watches with unique add-on functions like stop watch, calendar date, moon phases, and more, have been around since 1816, generally very accurate, and are often very expensive. Priced a Rolex lately?

In 1893, with the adoption of the General Railroad Timepiece Standards, developed for pocket watches worn by railroad conductors and engineers, uniform technology standards to synchronize time measurements along long travel distances was first introduced. This standards adoption revolutionized personal time devices – only 120 years ago!

By the 1920’s, wrist-worn watches outpaced pocket watch sales. Until the 1970’s all wrist watches were analog, spring-powered devices. With the introduction of microchip technology, many watches have now incorporated elements of digital technology including LCD displays and battery-powered operations.

Imagination and Science Fiction

October 4, 1931, the newspaper comic strip Dick Tracy, created by Chester Gould, was among the first to imagine science fiction wrist worn devices. Gould introduced a novel two-way wrist radio in 1948, which allowed Detective Tracy to communication with his police headquarters. This device evolved into a two-way wrist TV by 1964, which brought miniaturized video camera and a video screen. Then by 1987, the wrist-worn device had evolved into being a two-way wrist computer. One has to wonder how this comic strip inspired wearable device engineers.

Today

These are interesting times for wrist-worn devices. It is inevitable that smart phone technology will migrate to these devices.

By October 2, 2013 – nearly 82 years to the day when Gould introduced the two-way wrist radio in a comic strip, T-Mobile will offer the Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartphone. It will compete immediately with the new Sony SmartWatch 2.

Lurking in the weeds are rumors of Apple, Android, and Google watches, too.

Of course, these wrist-worn devices will interactively interface with your smartphone, essentially giving the user a second smart monitor. With Internet connectivity – in one form or another – Gould’s dream becomes reality.

The question is not “if” you will buy one of these devices. The question becomes: “when” will you buy one of these devices? Will you be an early adopter?

What can mobile app development teams learn from a spinning top?

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The left image was found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, who died about 1323 BC. The two images on the right are contemporary, which means these tops were manufactured about 3300 years apart.

For many, it is hard to imagine a world when simpler, non-electronic, toys were the primary options for fun. How quickly we seem to forget!

IT and C-Level executives might be surprised to discover there are three business lessons that can still be learned from a simple toy like a spinning top.

Here are three for consideration:

Simplicity Can Increase Durability

Sometimes, the simplest concept can stand the test of time. Archeologists have found spinning tops that date back over five thousand years. And, here’s the most amazing stat: they still function today exactly as they did then. What about your mobile app? How will it stand the test of time? Is anyone taking bets that a cell phone, or any of its apps, will still be working five thousand years from now? How about one year from now?

Tipping Points

Without going into the physics of how a spinning top works, suffice it say that once a top is correctly spinning on a smooth surface, it will continue to do for as long as its’ spinning inertia can maintain a balance. Once inertia begins to slow, balance will falter, and the spinning top will revert back into being just an inert object. Eerily this description fits mobility software programs, too. Finding the right balance in software features and functions, without making it overloaded, may make the critical difference in the lifespan of the product. There are tipping points when all software programs stop being useful. And, an unused software app is another definition of an inert object. Have you identified your tipping points?

User Interfaces

A complex concept implies complex user interfaces. Plus, a complex concept has more points of failure than a simpler concept. A spinning top is an intuitive product. The very design of a top invites the user to give it a spin with a flick of the wrist. When users look at your mobile app, what is appealing and inviting about it? Is it intuitive or intimidating? Are users ready to give it a flick or a swipe to get started?

Final Thoughts

What are your best case hopes and aspirations for the life of your mobile app? A year? More than two years? More than five years?? Perhaps emulating the lessons learned from a spinning top will help produce positive influences on your mobile application projects. Aim high!

Mobility Dashboards: BI and Mobility are Perfectly Paired

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No doubt, how individuals exchange information has changed. For example, I rarely use a reed stylus and clay tablets to send messages to others. However, I often use an interactive screen keyboard and smart phone – or an electronic tablet – to send and receive messages. While perhaps similar in size, mobility, form, and function, these two communication techniques are vastly different in speed, convenience, reliability, and presentation capabilities.

Processing Information

Recently, I had several thought-provoking conversations that centered on how, in the age of computers, information is best processed and presented.

Here’s a quick stroll down memory lane. Since the dawn of computers, information has been processed with two primary techniques – batch and real-time.

Batch systems crunch information typically overnight and then, the next morning, they spew mountains of printed-out reports for users to consume and to digest. Cumbersome and tedious – sure; but, when compared to manual record keeping, it is a quantum leap forward.

For a variety of valid reasons in the past few decades, batch processing has been rapidly losing favor. This is because real-time systems are able to process information as it happens. There is no overnight delay.  This means business decisions have the potential of being made in either “real” or “real-enough” time. The key word to remember is “potential.”

Printed Reports or Dashboards

One common IT practice, from both batch and real-time systems, has been a corporate dependency on using printed reports to make business decisions. Will reports be practical in a future mobile world? Probably less and less so!

Here are the two questions that operations and IT managers need to consider:  (1) is it fundamentally better to make decisions based upon what happened in the past (lagging indicators), or (2) is it better to make decisions based upon future trends of what might be needed in the future (leading indicators)?

Most executives I know would welcome the chance to have a crystal ball (or even a Magic 8 ball for that matter) that could reliably predict future trends. That would make their lives so much easier, they tell me.

Can one reliably predict the future? Within limitations, certainly one can have educated guesses. All it requires is a reliable toolset of assumptions that are based upon pertinent rules that can be applied to collected information. Predictions can be reasonably projected by using business intelligence (BI) software. More about BI will be in future blogs.

BI and Mobility

So, why do I think BI and mobility are a perfect match?

Well, let’s be honest. Many understand and grasp pictures and graphs quicker than they can understand thick reports with information that may be buried in paragraphs of text or columns of figures. Mobile devices excel at presenting visual information quickly and succinctly. And, that’s okay with me. I’m a visual learner, too.

If one is concerned with the speed in which one has the potential (remember that word from before?) to makes critical business decisions, which is a better use of time, energy and effort: (1) wadding through a printed report analyzing historical data, or (2) looking at a screen with real-time or snapshot analytics presented in a graphical presentation format (e.g., a dashboard)?

Mobility BI Dashboards

The simple answer is that mobility devices and mobility software perfectly expands the presentation footprint of how information can be provided for interpretation and decision making processes. No longer is one tied to a desk or to a printed report to make real-time business decisions. One can be literally anywhere where there is Internet access and have the capability to make rational decisions.

Adding mobility to the decision equation foreshadows a significant paradigm shift in IT thinking and operational management execution. Mobility will become a foundation element for information presentations in the future for all business indicators. Are you ready to take advantage of the new shift?

How Long Will Your Mobile App Be State-of-the-Art?

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The images are small, so here is some historical context beginning on the top ROW: [from left} (1) Early DOS – all text based information – circa 1981. (2) Green screen DOS with pseudo boxes – which were often designed by outlining areas using font characters instead of real boxes – circa mid-1980. (3) Early Macintosh GUI screen – 1983. (4) Early Windows GUI Screen – 1985. Second ROW: (5) Windows Blue Screen of Death – if you don’t remember, ask someone older why it was dreaded – lurking about since 1985. (6) Windows XP GUI – circa 2001. (7) Mac GUI – circa 2008. (8) Mobile Apps Menu – now.

Aside from obviously being a montage of historical computer screen shots, what do these images of software have in common? For their day, they represent the state-of-the-art software technology.

Would your company go back to one of these state-of-the-art software platforms? Not likely.

Enterprise software and technology have a known destiny

Everyone in IT knows that all Enterprise software and hardware technology, over time, is inevitably destined to become obsolete.

One can install new operating systems; upgrade existing Enterprise applications; apply a variety of Band-Aids to help heal new tech problems; or, simply limp along with the status quo; but, eventually, software and/or technology will no longer efficiently support your business model needs, and, their time in the sun will end.

Studies report that most companies re-invest in new ERP systems and platforms every 5-8 years. What’s your policy for this and how will you incorporate this policy with your mobile app development?

What is the destiny for your mobile apps?

How long is your company expecting your newly deployed mobile app to be business or consumer relevant? Are you using the latest programming tools or technology to insure a quality user experience? Is your mobile app positioned to have a long-shelf life or was it delivered already bordering on being obsolete?

Lessons learned from others

As discussed in previous blog postings, audiences matter. Consumer-facing apps become brand extensions for your company. The same marketing effort used to promote your brand should be employed for your app. If one refreshes a brand image frequently, then, so should one refresh the consumer app. There are many excellent consumer-based app examples to reference that are frequently changing with market conditions, including Amazon, Lowes, Barnes & Noble, and Bank of America.

If your app is business-to- business or for only internal usage, then the user experience may be a driving force. Certainly, BYOD initiatives have had an impact on user experiences as each new mobile device strives to outdo their competition with new features. But, rather than IT departments trying to support each new OS system or new device immediately, one might simply have a scheduled refresh policy for your app of once a year or once every 18-months. A real challenge for BYOD is backwards compatible to support the newest desired user experience features while still supporting older technology.

Migration of mobile apps

Should your company be planning an Enterprise upgrade or replacement, remember to allow time to update or replace your mobile app, too. Your mobile application changes may turn out to be more back-end than front-end; but, the data integration will need to be completed and available in conjunction with your larger Enterprise project – especially if business users have grown accustomed to their functions and convenience.

Mobile Takeaway

The primary takeaway should be that your mobile apps are not completed, even though they may be deployed.  Keeping a mobile app in a state-of-the-art status is a never-ending IT process that requires resource planning and a refresh schedule to remain relevant.

Six Golf Lessons Applied to Mobile App Development and Deployment

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One does not have to be an avid golfer to understand the basic concept of playing golf. The game strategy is that the player with the fewest strokes taken to place a small white ball into 18 different cups spread over a 7,000 yard course wins the match.

How do lessons taken from golf apply to mobile app development and deployment? Here are six possibilities to consider:

(1) Creating and writing mobile app code can take a fundamental tip from golf that less is best. Business and social mobile apps all compete for a finite amount of storage space in mobile devices. So, does one try to create an app that reasonably performs multiple functions; or, does one create an app that does only one function really well?

(2) No cheating is allowed. Golf is a self-regulated game. That is why the concept of penalty strokes comes into play. While imitation may be a sincere form of flattery in some industries, blatant copying of business concepts, look and feel, and other proprietary programming techniques is simply plagiarism.

(3) Follow-through is fundamental. You may have heard the golf catch phrase “drive for show, but putt for dough.” Mobile software development strategy is the same. Integration into back-end Enterprise applications can sound flashy (for show), and  they may give the marketing impression that their software is of “professional” grade quality; however, the real genius  (for dough) for a mobile app may be found in the attention to details evident on the front-end where tiny changes can make a big difference in user perceptions.

(4) The right equipment can make a difference. Anyone who plays can testify that golfers are always seeking an edge with their equipment. Hybrid clubs made from high-tech metals and ceramic materials; special grips; incredibly coated golf balls; glove-like shoes; and, much more, have all combined to make average golfers better; and, to make above average golfers superior.

The same is true for mobile technology. Not all mobile devices are created equal and not all mobile OS are created equal. There are ample arguments being made, elsewhere, that the concept of BYOD (bring your own device) should be replaced with CYOD (choose your own device from a list of approved technology offerings). I envision that eventually there will a consolidation of mobile devices and their manufacturers. It certainly has happened with computers. At some future point, the clear technology hardware winners will emerge and the BYOD choices will narrow. Why wait? Narrow your choices now.

(5) Rules and standards are vital to healthy software development. When it comes to device and software security, MAM, and MDM, and other software development issues, there are common-sense rules that everyone should abide by. Trying to shortcut development standards helps no one long-term. Why reinvent the wheel when it already exists? Embrace rules and standards.

(6) Targeting audiences correctly is paramount. Why do you suppose CBS spends millions broadcasting the Masters Tournament from Augusta? It’s just another golf match, right? If you think that, then the Super Bowl is just another football game, right? No, not exactly. The lure of the Masters is that it features the best players, which attracts a certain demographic audience, which advertisers can target to sell their products, which translates into sales – the lifeblood of business.

In 2013, the Masters Tournament broadcast drew a 21 ratings share and 18 million viewers, which was up 26% over the 13.5 million viewers in 2012.  Advertisers got their money’s worth, and then some! Was anyone watching the other channels? I know I wasn’t.

Finally, here’s the best takeaway lesson to be learned from golf by mobile software app development companies. There can only be one Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Adam Scott. And, they compete head-to-head nearly every weekend on a world stage.

How would your company be viewed on a world stage of mobile app developers? Leading the field, in contention to take the lead, an amateur at best, or, never making the final cut? Being good at mini-golf is very different than being able to play on the PGA tour.

Worldwide, there are hundreds of software companies, ISVs, and business consultants that tout they are ERP business partners developing mobile business apps. However, the actual number of companies listed by independent research companies, like Gartner and Forrester, to be real players in the mobility software industry, is a handful. Competition will be fierce for the same audience of buyers and users.

So, how does one make one’s app standout from the crowd? How does one attract positive attention? What gives your mobile app a competitive edge? What is your strategy to win the match, and more importantly, win the hearts of your target audience?

It is worth repeating: hoping for the best is not a reliable strategy.

What to Include in a Mobility Software Style Guide

Several weeks ago, I wrote on this blog that mobile software development should be guided by the use of a style guide for consistency. Since then, I’ve received numerous inquiries asking for more details about the type of style elements that might be included in a guide document.

Here is a snapshot from my Table of Contents page:

ImageI am happy to provide my views; however, adding a complete style guide example here is impracticable due to space considerations. So, I’ve done the next best thing by posting a sample mobility software style guide document on my Linkedin Profile page, which can be downloaded for free for review:  www.linkedin.com/in/jerryhorne/

My example style guide document provides the basic elements that many companies might find to be practicable for setting standards for their mobile software development; however, your mobility software style guide might be completely different. And, that’s okay with me.

The important consideration is that one applies a consistent look and feel. As I noted on an earlier blog, companies with large, or, perhaps global, mobile development organizations face distance and communication challenges to provide custom software consistency.

A style guide is a simple tool to help bridge one’s gaps.

What kind of animal is your mobile app?

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Lately, I’ve noticed that there are definite similarities between some mobile app types and animals. Allow me to elaborate on an obvious few:

Snail apps

As the name implies, this app, while potentially solidly constructed, is s-l-o-w to interact. One tries to perform a simple action and it takes “forever” to react. One seems to be constantly waiting. In today’s instant gratification world, anything that takes more than a few seconds to react is like the proverbial saying: as fast as molasses flowing uphill in January. Burrr!

Cheetah apps

This app is the exact opposite of a snail app. How well it is constructed is secondary to how fast it reacts. So while it is fast, there may be other issues to contend with. One pet peeve for many is the auto-correcting spelling feature that attempts to override what one has keyed. If you’re not paying attention all the time, the cheetah app may create “interesting” and unexpected results. They may work fast; but, one may have to be wary that it doesn’t bite back.

Chameleon apps

This breed of app is one that promises one thing and delivers another. Have you downloaded apps from an apps store where the description and image don’t match-up to the actual product? You can be the judge if this is false advertising. Some have suggested that apps that offer “free” trials for a period of time might be considered borderline chameleon apps – especially if one has to register a credit card somewhere. Is the app providing a business service or is it an excuse to provide an income stream for the developer. Of course, I fully embrace paying for services when appropriate; but, I prefer to know intentions for that upfront. Let the buyer beware.

Elephant apps

No doubt, this app is solidly constructed. Reliable interaction is evident all the time. Not exactly a snail, but, certainly not a cheetah either. Sturdy and steady would be accurate adjectives. However, plodding and bloated may also apply! Little elephants can grow-up to become larger elephants over time. They are still elephants, never the less. Elephants tend to take up lots of space.

Snake apps

Apologies to snake lovers, but, snake apps, in my opinion, are the worst apps possible. These apps may never be intended to do anything but to prey on naïve users. Apps where one has to register credit card or enter personal information before any initial usage may be playing right into the hands of someone phishing to steal one’s identity. Be careful with this app as looks can be deceiving. Don’t be fooled, as there are snakes in the Internet grass!

If your company has developed mobile apps, which animal would they most likely align with?

I am sure there are other app / animal categories possible. What are your favorite suggestions?

Wired Predictability versus Mobile Unpredictability: Mobile App Usage Impacts Scalability

Is scalability a scary IT concept for your enterprise mobility app development? If might be for some and here’s why:

Historically, scalability for recent software development projects was defined by known factors. IT departments built and designed scaled network to accommodate a reasonably static number of hardwired desktop devices. Server farms were scaled by algorithms that could predict data base growth as based upon a reasonably static number of hardwired devices. Desktop PCs ruled the scalability matrix because usage was a reasonably known quantity and it was predictable.

Mobility software adds a whole new layer of scalability complexity because the number of connected mobile devices can quickly outstrip the number of wired devices. Mobile app usage is nebulous at best and, by definition, in a BYOD world, usage is unpredictable.

Here a few specific Enterprise mobility scalability issues:

(1) The application architecture must accommodate a sliding scale number of licensed users-on-demand. Managing and budgeting for a growing number of licensed devices may be a challenge.

(2) The front-end app functionality must be easily adaptable to include new features because of user demand. Mobile users seem to be more demanding than wired users antidotal reports have suggested.

(3) The backend app interfaces may need to be seamlessly linked to additional programs or databases concurrently. User expectations may force software to go in directions IT departments didn’t foresee.

(4) The communications technology must be robust enough to allow for an increasing number of simultaneously connected wired and mobile devices. Internet connectivity, along with voice, data, and video, may all be competing for the same bandwidth. Does a frame-relay connection work for you, or, do you need a T1 or better? What’s your latency and can you live with it in a mobile world? Do you have a tripping point where the answer would be no?

(5)  The app code must allow for an increasing number of simultaneous devices with varying device operating systems. BYOD devices come in a variety of OS flavors. Users expect support for their favorite device. OS support may not come cheaply for your mobile app development needs.

How many issues apply to your situation for your mobile app software development?

One way to lessen the scalability impact of an unpredictable mobile environment is to plan for your worst-case scenario – and then perhaps double it.

One Technique for Defining Enterprise Mobile App ROI

The basic premise of any ROI tool is to show how quickly there will be payback on the investment made.

But, what does this really mean? How can one define Enterprise mobile app ROI?

The answer can seem complex, depending on what is most important to a company. But, the truth still comes back to achieving quantifiable financial improvements for the bottom line.

The easiest way to calculate an Enterprise mobile app ROI is to perform and evaluate time and effort comparisons.

Here’s a simple example. If the time and effort to perform a certain task manually (write results on paper and later key the information into the ERP software) is X; and, if the time and effort to perform the same task with Enterprise mobile apps (real-time) is Y, then it should be straight forward to calculate the time savings difference between the two methods and to calculate the resulting cost savings for a single task.

Then, all one has to do is determine the typical number of task to be performed in a period of time – an hour, a shift, a week, a month, or a year. Multiply the single task savings by the estimated number of tasks to be performed and the ROI picture begins to emerge.

Are these the only ROI factors to consider? Not really.

Perhaps the area where there is the most over-looked ROI savings can be found is in “error corrections,” which is directly tied to efficiency and productivity.

The rule of thumb for error corrections is done by estimating the number of errors that need addressing per 1,000 entries. An entry can be defined as a single transaction or as a single line within a transaction. Companies define this term differently all the time. For this discussion, let’s assume an error is a single line-item within a transaction with some type of problem.

Correcting errors is a nebulous term that can mean anything unexpected that causes a focused level of staff interaction. Essentially, the ERP software may be expecting something completely different than what reality says is right, which triggers the error. Numbers transposed – keyed wrong; wrong quantity entered; wrong location entered; damaged goods that can’t be used; lost products that can’t be found; expedited orders that take priorities over others; QC holds; etc. These are everyday problems for nearly all companies.

Most supervisors I’ve talked to say they spend, on-average, 2-hours to research, to validate, to document, and to correct a single error. Your results may vary.

If a company believes they are 95% efficient daily, that also implies they are 5% inefficient. Those inefficiencies are the errors that must be corrected and fixed. Using the entries rule of thumb above, this means 50 entries out of 1,000 are in error. Fifty entries times two hours each equals 100 hours of staff time required to fix and correct errors. Wow! That’s a lot of time and staff resources!

Error correcting can also become an easy target to realize immediate savings by employing mobile app technology that improves efficiency.

For example, raising and improving efficiency from 95% to 98% would imply that only 20 entries out of 1,000 are in error. Twenty entries times two hours equals 40 hours of staff time to fix and correct errors. That means there is a potential of 60 hours savings difference!

When one does this math, it is easy to discover the financial impact of improving efficiency and reducing error correction time.

And, of course, there are a number of important intangible savings that can be realized from mobile Enterprise business apps including better inventory accuracy, better order fulfillment, better customer satisfaction, and, best of all, repeat business. These are harder issues to quantify true value; but, they are vitally important never the less.