Archive for March, 2010

Context-Aware Computing

March 24, 2010

2009 was the year of cloud computing, but what will dominate business technology in 2010?

 Social media will continue to be pushed, as will related areas like customer engagement and personalisation. But there’s always an area that develops quickly and catches the media unaware.

 I’m going to take an early stab at a fast-emerging area known as context-aware computing (CAC). In its broadest sense, CAC deals with the concept that technology can sense, and then react to, the environment.

 The area has received significant research interest since the mid-1990s but is beginning to gain traction as a potentially significant area for business computing. Gartner, often a barometer for hype in technology, has already started to looking at CAC.

 In September 2009, the analyst stated that businesses could use CAC to target prospects, increase intimacy and enhance collaboration. Gartner defines context-aware computing as using information about the user to improve the quality of an interaction.

 The analyst expects CAC to develop quickly. The typical blue-chip company will manage between two and 10 business relationships with context providers by 2012, and context will be as influential in mobile consumer services and relationships as search engines are to the web by 2015.

 The figures sound impressive, but what do they actually mean? Rather than hype, what companies really needs is clear implications. Cloud computing, for example, is expected to have a huge impact on UK plc, but the majority of firms are still hanging back and waiting to see how the concept might be realised in business.

 If implications are not clear, CAC could quickly become the latest technology that is hyped before its problem-solving potential is properly defined.  What we don’t need is yet another technology looking for a problem; what we do need is an idea of how CAC might be exploited.

 Gartner suggests emerging context-enriched services will use location, presence and social attributes to anticipate an end user’s immediate needs, offering more-sophisticated and usable functions.

 Such definitions make CAC seem like the next generation of location-based services. I would hope context services will offer much more than that, helping firms to collate client information – such as areas of specialism and customer preferences – to create a much more personalised service.

 What is sure in this fast-developing area is that context, not just content, will be king during the next decade. And you would be well advised to think about how customer information can be used to help serve your clients better.

Further reading


The Rich are Getting Richer

March 17, 2010

The last twelve months have been tough, with many businesses and individuals struggling against the change in economic conditions. But while times have been tough, many of the most popular news items have also helped highlight inequalities.

From the expenses claims of errant MPs through to large bonuses for failed bankers, individuals in all areas of the UK have been surprised how – at times of hardship – the rich seem to be getting richer. And the web is no different.

At the same time as a change in economic conditions, businesses face a change in marketing and buying. More and more individuals are choosing to interact with companies through the web – and some firms are struggling to respond effectively.

At this time of new interactivity it pays to focus on the customer experience and with that to differentiate yourselves from the competition by the quality of the customer experience. Leading firms are responding by making sites increasingly interactive, rather than the passive click and refresh approach the web was born with.

Improvements in web technology and broadband access have overcome the limitations of the early days of the web where customer experience design focused heavily on performance because of the technology constraints. With these issues lessening the new age of interaction presents a plethora of means for collaboration and slow-moving companies now risk being left behind.

High-intensity web sites provide a much more responsive feel akin to desktop applications and also provide a range of communication tools. Click on to a an innovator’s site and your likely to have a range of ostentatious options, including speech response, chat/video messaging and animated forms.

However web trends come and go increasingly quickly; today’s Twitter is tomorrow’s Friends Reunited. I have seen the issue of page scrolling from being cool to being a huge design sin and back to cool.

Expect also a greater range of form controls being deployed as the basic HTML controls only provide lists, edit fields, text fields and buttons. Companies are now buying or creating their own widget libraries to enrich their palette of form controls, note the recent advertisements from confused espousing the ease of use of slider bars.

With richer experiences expect to see animated page transitions, windows/pages no longer to be square, more visualised data than text, multi-media experiences using sound and video.

So the rich are getting richer, the only question is when will you join them  !


Mobile Wars 2: Whats the payback in mobile?

March 11, 2010

The business brainstorming session has come up with its latest, greatest idea: an iPhone app that lets customers interact with the business.

 On the face of it, the idea sounds OK. All the coolest dudes are using iPhones to communicate with their friends and colleagues; all the coolest companies are creating apps that give their clients a new way to work with the business.

 Rolling out the application should mean one million-plus UK iPhone users will be able to log in and communicate with the business. But there’s a world of difference between creating a cool app and creating a useful app.

 Let’s take the area of online banking as a case study example. Research suggests one third of small businesses would consider using mobile banking if their financial institution offered such a platform.

 The result is that companies are queuing up to offer online banking solutions. Financial institutions are looking at ways to offer their customers authentication on the move, and suppliers are looking to create a new wave of secure applications.

 But is that really the best way to turn ideas into realities? Shouldn’t we be starting with the business case and then thinking about potential technical solutions?

 After all, one million-plus iPhone users does not necessarily correspond to more than a million happy customers. Not all iPhone users will hold an account with the bank, and not all banking customers will want to use an iPhone application to undertake their financial activity.

 Even in a best-case scenario – like that above, where a third of small businesses will like to undertake mobile banking – the results are likely to be less than staggering. Rather than a million potential users, what the business is left with is a proportion – a small sub-set of its existing customer base.

 Which is great if you find the right niche. It’s also great if your main aim is to look interactive – the iPhone app is up-and-ready and the customers are being served through the latest, greatest platform.

 But developing and then maintaining a new channel to market is expensive. At a time of reduced IT investment and increased demands for value, the last thing you – and your business leaders – need is more costly software and systems.

 The real pay back from mobile technology comes from mass adoption. Undertake research and development, and ensure your app provides a real return on investment. Otherwise, you’re simply trying to look cool and trendy. And that’s a business case that is unlikely told hold credence in the boardroom battle.