Archive for September, 2009

Arise, Sir Presentation Architect!

September 28, 2009

Someone, somewhere is always willing to step into the limelight. In an age of celebrity culture, where self-promotion almost seems like the key to success, the real stars can sometimes get hidden beneath the hype.

The same is true in the world of IT. The input of real experts is sometimes drowned by the deafening noise emanating from a combination of technologists pushing their latest concepts and executives that are concerned about business alignment.

Now is the time for the real experts to stick their heads above the parapet. In an age of on-demand computing and web-based interaction, the architects that develop your interfaces have never been more crucial.

For a start, our interface for interacting with computers is changing. Where once applications sat on our desktop, more and more users are interacting with applications through the browser. The broad range of next generation browsers – such as Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox – show how the web can be a platform for business computing, not just searching and browsing.

Ajax and Flash have given developers the opportunity to develop cool web-based applications, many of which work more smoothly than their desktop-based cousins. Those developments are only likely to get more impressive, with platforms like Adobe AIR and Mozilla Prism allowing users to connect to their web applications through the desktop.

Underlying such developments is the progression of broadband and wireless networking. Long gone is the time when domestic internet users had to rely on dial-up access and painfully slow web browsing. The average UK broadband download speed is now above 4.3Mbps (see further reading) and the government continues to work on its plan for a highspeed broadband network, with a universal 2Mbps broadband link “virtually everywhere” by 2012.

Such developments mean more and more of your customers will be online. And in an age of constrained financial returns, your customer has just become even more important. Clients will quickly change supplier if they believe they can get a better deal or a better experience somewhere else. Strong customer advocates are likely to be your quickest way to retained clients.

So, ensure your front-end – your window on your business and its services – is usable and reliable. This means presentation architects must be close to the business. The user interface – or presentation layer – is the face of the business and the significance of individuals in such architecture positions is unlikely to diminish.

In fact, the importance of presentation architects is only likely to increase as more internal and external users rely on usable web-based interfaces to communicate with the business.

Want to get ahead? Then look after your presentation architect

Further reading


Buying usability

September 21, 2009

Buying online should be convenient and simple. Rather than having to traipse around town centres or retail parks in the pouring rain, customers should be able to buy from the comfort and convenience of a broadband-connected computer.

Time and again, however, many users are left frustrated by a poor quality customer experience. In an attempt to boost customer satisfaction, how can businesses balance design, security and usability to ensure a high quality experience?

Your first port of call should be the town centre. Think of your favourite shops and think about how they draw customers in, while keeping practices safe and secure. And the most successful shops are not always bright and flashy; sometimes calm and sedate is best.

Not every customer will have a high-speed connection, offering fast download speeds and an enjoyable experience. Load you site with power-sapping graphics or video and you will soon leave clients dismayed and disappointed.

Instead, keep things simple and enjoyable. Signposting should be clear, advertising unobtrusive and inconspicuous. Security, meanwhile, should not act as a significant barrier to purchasing.

Research shows that one in 10 consumers have defected to another company after feeling frustrated at the security procedures on a site, while 31% would use a site less frequently if they encountered login problems (see further reading, below).

The answer, as ever, is finding the right balance. Wherever possible, security features should be hidden to ensure that layers of passwords that can cause frustration do not complicate online purchasing.

When you look to refresh your security measures, aim for techniques that subtly ensure the customer is the right customer. Find ways to monitor behaviour discretely, such as checking IP addresses are consistent.

And when it comes to refreshing the look and feel of the web site, remember that usability is king. Adding more buttons to an interface is not necessarily a good thing; simplicity and standardisation will keep clients happy.

Find strong customer advocates that know your business and its potential weak points. Ask them what they believe needs to be refined and tuned. As in the case of a high street shop front, your customers need to like what they see.

If they do, they’re more likely to have an enjoyable experience – and to make that all-important purchase.


Further reading


Technologies for the new age of mobility

September 1, 2009

The talk of the IT industry is that we are about to enter a new age of mobility. But as the market for mobile phones and chips is actually falling, it is important to seek the deeper trends beneath the vendor puff.

 The semiconductor industry posted a decline in revenue for only the fifth time in the last 25 years in 2008, according to Gartner. The analyst reports that global mobile phone sales are being hit even harder, with a record 8.6% drop in sales during the first quarter of 2009.

 But not all areas of device manufacturer are struggling. The new age of mobility requires a new age of mobile devices, with technologies and applications to match.

 Gartner says sales of multimedia-enabled smartphones – such as Apple’s iPhone or RIM’s BlackBerry – rose 12.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. In fact, smart devices should account for at least half of all mobile phones by 2012.

 So, why the rush to smartphones? And from accelerometers to micromachines, what are the technologies that will drive the next stage of device interactivity?

 Apple’s iPhone uses an accelerometer to automatically reorient the screen to landscape when the device is tipped on its side. Nintendo’s motion-sensing Wii controller uses an accelerometer, too.

 Consumer demand for smarter applications on interactive devices means growth will continue, with market researcher iSuppli expecting the market for accelerometers to almost double by 2013 and hit $1.7bn.

 It is not just about mobile gamers, either. Due to the continuing spread of consumerisation, businesses are being forced to find innovative ways to adopt the collaborative and interactive technologies that many employees now take for granted.

 The use of accelerometers is part of a broader use of micromachines, a set of minute components and a microprocessor that allow mobile devices to act smart. Certain micromachine technologies, notably inkjet printing, are already commonplace in business.

 Technology firms are now finding other pioneering ways to ally micromachine and mobile technology. Take Texas Instruments, which is pioneering the use of micro projectors and digital light processing in portable devices.

 Or computer giant IBM, who continue to work on the Millipede data storage project and which aims to provide data density of more than one terabit per square inch.

 Such developments help to illustrate why traditional semiconductor revenues are struggling and sales of smart devices are soaring. Micromachine technology means that a new age of mobility is fast approaching.


Further reading