Archive for July, 2010

Social computing: Get it right, or get offline

July 19, 2010

Pick up any newspaper, look for the technology stories and you’re likely to find one thing: stories about social networking.

 Forget case studies of companies spending big on business IT. From scare stories about the risks associated to Facebook to celebrities choosing to Tweet about their personal lives, the popular media chooses to concentrate on the collaborative side of information technology.

 It’s not just the media, either. Take time to browse Twitter and you’ll quickly discover that most posts on the social networking platform are about, well, Twitter.

 This inherently self-referential style consists of a series of so-called ‘gurus’ and ‘evangelists’ telling the world that a failure to get social and manage your social presence is a business risk.

 But here’s the rub: such a failure to deal with Twitter isn’t necessarily a business risk. In fact, the opposite might well be true – sometimes it makes sense not to communicate online.

 For a start, how many channels can your business realistically manage? They might be seen as legacy technologies, but I can guarantee your business – like most others – is swamped on a daily basis by customer service calls and emails.

 When you choose to complain about service, do you hunt for a company’s email address or look for the Twitter address? If you can’t find the latter, do you choose not to complain or do you use the email address?

 I can guarantee – like most other consumers – that you will choose to email. If the individual can’t find your brand, they might choose to Tweet about your failure to have a Twitter presence.

 But does that really matter? If they can’t moan to you directly through a Twitter presence, then they will be shouting in the dark. So, does every organisation really need a social networking presence?

 Being communicative is not just about setting up a Twitter account; instead, it’s about what you do with the chosen platform. Pushing out links to new services and offers via social software can help your customers make the right decisions at the right time.

 Yet a failure to provide interesting information – or simply a failure to monitor the social channel – and your clients will quickly become disinterested.

 In short, if you’re going online – do something useful. Don’t just create another platform to annoy users and allow disappointed customers to moan about your service.

The new King is “Context”

July 12, 2010

It’s good to be one of the first to have an opinion on a fast-developing scene. At the turn of the year, I offered my thoughts on context-aware computing (CAC), an area of technological development that is beginning to be hyped as the next big thing in IT.

 I had an early stab at a definition in that blog posting, saying CAC is associated to the concept that technology can sense, and then react to, the environment. Since then, the cacophony of hype surrounding CAC has continued to swell. 

 Analyst Gartner has continued to develop its thought leadership in the area. Leading publications have also started to write at-length about CAC, including a Computer Business Review feature that drew on my experiences and feelings.

 In that article, I offered an opinion that I will develop below – that context-aware computing, which is closely related to location-based services, can help with the creation of a single user experience. Sounds great, but at the moment the technology is not ready for such a giant leap.

 Location-based services (LBS) are the popular, media-friendly side of CAC. Users of Twitter and Google will be well aware of the proliferation of data feeds and apps, such as Foursquare, that provide information in relation to a user’s location.

 Smart firms are beginning to think about how they can use LBS to push relevant offers and opportunities. So, as you hit a certain part of a town, a restaurant chain or coffee shop could push special deals to your mobile device.

 Gartner predicts the LBS user base will grow globally from 96 million in 2009 to more than 526 million in 2012. For business, then, LBS is an area well worth exploring.

 Being able to target the customer at the right time is a tempting concept; what company wouldn’t want to increase customer loyalty through increased collaboration? But there’s a snag – and that’s where true CAC comes in.

 The key word is context. More than just being about location-based services and presence on mobile devices, true CAC is social – it understands you, your needs, and relates those desires to time and location. The right information/offer, at the right time, in the right place, on the right device !

 Train delays are automatically connected to your morning alarm; offers at your popular lunchtime haunts are pushed to your mobile location; and nearby friends are identified for a post-work pint. True context-aware computing, therefore, is about the provision of many different types of information on any device.

 There’s a lot of room for innovation and businesses must spend more time analysing the potential of CAC, rather than the hyped area of mobile apps. Context, after all, is much more powerful.

In the online world I expect Context to usurp Content as the next King.

Further Reading:


User Experience Platforms: Get your processes right first

July 5, 2010

If you want to get the user experience right, you will need to concentrate on processes before you start worrying about selecting the right supporting web development tools.

 As mentioned in one of my recent blog posts, more providers and businesses are paying attention to the user experience platform (UXP), a framework covering skills, processes, standards and technologies for User Experience.

 Major analysts, such as Gartner, IDC and Forrester are already paying significant attention to the user experience. Expect that attention to become more focused, because UXP is likely to become one of the key business IT phrases during the next year-or-so.

 There is likely to a great deal of focus on how web applications are designed and which tools will help produce a customer-friendly experience. But building the application is only part of the problem.

 While a focus on development and technology in UXP is important, your business will actually need to place most of its focus on process and measurement first– and a series of supporting applications will be needed.

 First, creating wireframes and visualising the application long before it is fully developed as an application is absolutely crucial. Prototyping – and being able to modify the code simply to meet user needs – is the key here.

 Second, user experience metrics tools will also be significant in assessing usability. Without the correct analytical tools, how will you measure user satisfaction and make the right modifications to maximise the efficiency and effectivness of users?

Third, apart from usability your marketing team will want to validate that you have adopted their online branding guidelines. You don’t want to upset the marketeers, they hold most of the budget when it comes to UXP.

 Fourth, you will need to provide a series of supporting documents. Providing the right documentation through the whole design process is a fundamental tenet of providing a strong UXP.

 Finally, you will need to provide the right test ground to check how the application works in different browsers, is not open to security issues and performs well for during maximum usage.

 If that sounds overly complicated, think again: establishing the right UXP is far from simple for a reason. In short, the right presentation layer relies on the right underlying processes.

 All these elements must be considered long before you worry about the development tools – such as Microsoft Silverlight or Adobe Flex – that will help you build your perfect web page.

 Get the processes right and you will be able to meet customer-friendly web applications that meet a broad range of users expectations and tastes.