Archive for February, 2011

Chameleon Web Sites: Write once Publish Many

February 24, 2011

Unless you’re a genius, you don’t always have the best ideas. And unless you work for an incredible all-rounder, your organisation won’t always have the best products and services.

That is why it sometimes makes sense to reach out and work with trusted partners. And the ever-complex world of IT – where technologies, processes and requirements change quicker than elsewhere in business – is likely to be where business executives look for the most external assistance.

Your firm wouldn’t trust someone else to manage its finances and it’s unlikely they’d externalise human resources, bar the odd use of a recruitment consultant or two. But IT provides tremendous options to outsource, offshore and externalise.

White-labelling, where a company takes a  product and wraps a brand around it, allows a company to sell products they didn’t actually make/manufacture. This has been done for years with hard products and is now becoming much make popular online too.  This approach allows a company to sell products as if they actually created the site – and while that sounds a bit deceptive, it’s actually becoming common practice.

In the case of financial services firms, white-labelling is a huge area of IT business growth. It has been for a while; allowing businesses to create systems without risks and that look good and work well.

In fact, white-labelling is so ingrained that analyst Gartner recognises that specialist providers often re-brand software as their own to help complete financial software suites. That extended approach is beginning to filter down to customers, too.

Finance firms have typically taken an application and changed small elements, such as fonts, colours, images and contact numbers (basic look and feel). However, the embedded nature of business technology, and the prevalence of social media, means that users are demanding a much more hands-on approach from white-labelled software.

Brand owners are determined to deal with such intuitive requirements and are asking for more control over the customer experience. This results in a request for systems that reflect the brand, rather than the product owners, and which allow control over pagination and layout to produce a unique look and feel.

Unfortunately the future is getting more complex for whitelabellers as their brands will demand support not only for their very own customer experience, but will demand it across a range of device types (mobile, TV, etc) too!

Organisations need technology from partners that will be able work the ever-increasing demands for flexibility. Without a supple approach to white-labelling, the IT organisation will be left with a huge amount of underlying bespoke code that will need to updated in-line with every product or service change.

While you might not be an all-round mastermind, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a flexible approach to white-labelling is essential for your business.

Further reading:

http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?id=1451737

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Pimp up your site to scale new heights in performance and scalability

February 17, 2011

What is most important to you, the way something appears or the way something works?

Chances are you are not that bothered by the second factor; most users are not that interested in the ‘under the bonnet’ mechanics of an Apple iPad. They like the device for its form factor and style, not its internal engine.

Most users only become bothered about the way something works when the technology starts to go wrong. And just as people moan about the cost of potentially replacing an Apple battery, so they will start moaning about problematic connectivity in the always-on era.

Individuals have got used to the look and feel of internet-enabled life. The prevalence of social media means more and more users first thought when something happens in their lives is to update a series of collaborative platforms.

What might have seemed odd, even self indulgent, just a few years ago is now accepted as a social norm. But this always-on, always-connected mentality will have serious consequences unless executives start thinking about two core issues: performance and scalability.

A number of factors are crucial here. First, the number of people and devices connected to the web is only going to increase. The number of devices connected to the internet hit five billion earlier this year, says IMS Research, and will reach 22 billion by 2020 (see further reading, below).

Second, as well as tremendous increase in the number of web-enabled devices, the type and scale of online behaviour continues to change. Where as people used to connect to the web, they now update personal information and purchase goods on the move through smart mobile devices.

What will emerge is an internet of things, where all manner of devices are always connected to the social internet and communicating machine-to-machine. By 2020, IMS estimates that six billion mobile phones will be connected to the web, but also 1.1 billion cars and 2.5 billion televisions.

 The internet, which currently seems increasingly important to everyday life, will essentially become the core engine of modern working and social practices. As can be seen by the figures above, the scale of growth and change is likely to be remarkable. But will your business be able to offer optimum levels of performance?

Like the infamous post-Coronation Street surge in power as viewers turn on their kettles, customer service is currently geared around anticipated peaks. Always-on television would allow viewers to connect at any time, not just during the break for advertisements.

The simple answer is that your organisation will have to become more interested in the way the internet works. Lift up the bonnet and pimp your engine now to cope with the tremendous changes in performance and scalability.

Further reading:

 http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/22_billion_phones_tvs_cars_on_internet_of_things.php

How safe is your mobile app?

February 9, 2011

2010 was, for many organisations, the year of the app. Executives across all sectors rolled out apps to provide a new channel for customer interaction. 

For many businesses, the aim has been to enhance relationships and engage clients. More and more customers have smart phones, powerful internet-enabled devices that allow users to work and play online from the palm of the hand. However as we move into a world of more devices and even more apps my concern is that are users and business acting responsibly when it comes to security?

There is quite a bit of “User Naivety”. How many mobile users set a strong password lock on their mobile phone, if they set one at all? This knowing that some apps and sites “stay logged in”, giving any user with access to the phone access to the app ! Not so bad for angry birds maybe, but what about mobile banking !

Then, when downloading apps it is surprising how freely access is given to phone functions to a vendor of an app that the user has never heard of or checked their reliability. For example many users do not realise that an app can access any phone function or data on the handset. It is very feasible to write an app that goes through your phonebook and sends email addresses to spammers, or one that automatically sends expensive premium rate texts in the middle of the night !

This kind of user naivety is similar to users on desktop PC accessing a supposedly secure site without checking SSL Certificates.

What about simple things like other people looking over your shoulder? What about if you lose your phone? What about when your ever-smarter phone becomes your electronic wallet? The security implications are huge !

Scare mongary? Well (see further reading) many USA banks have already see breaches in their mobile apps !

Some of the same fears can be repeated in the corporate arena. Do you really want people logging into native apps while they’re on the move? What if devices go missing? Could corporate firewalls be compromised?

Whilst some app stores provide some basic checks none of this can necessarily be relied upon, and it is only time before we hear of more regularly of mobile security breaches and virus’s.

Whilst solving the cross platform mobile apps issue, the impending move towards HTML5 based apps could see even further challenges as the web itself becomes an endless appstore of it’s own.

The app has been the web-based sensation of the last 12 months. But we have a long way to go before native apps and in the future mobile web apps can be considered a secure means to access confidential information. And for the enterprise environment, that day could be a long way off.

Further Reading

http://goingcellular.com/mobile-applications/citibank-discovers-security-breach-in-iphone-app-443045/

http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/major-mobile-banking-app-security-holes-uncovered/

http://www.drdobbs.com/security/226500191;jsessionid=IE0BUOZ53VALLQE1GHRSKHWATMY32JVN

AppInventor to drop out of school

February 3, 2011

Something odd is happening. While children have never been more involved in computing, fewer and fewer young people are studying technology.

 Any parent of young children will be able to regale you with tales of their offspring multitasking with various devices and apps. The modern, younger generation has grown up only knowing a technology-enabled world and they are a product of that interaction.

 However, that high level of interactivity has not created a rise in interest in the academic side of IT. Just 4,065 students were awarded computing A-levels this year, compared with 4,710 this time last year – a drop of 13.7% (see further reading, below).

 The jury is out on what such developments mean for the UK: while companies continue to offshore certain technology tasks, a core of highly-skilled technicians must exist in the UK. So, how can we get kids interested in the behind-the-scenes coding that supports their multi-tasking lifestyle?

 One possibility comes in the form of Google’s App Inventor, a system that claims to enable non-coders to develop Android software. Instead of writing code, interested individuals visually design the way an app looks and use blocks to specify software behaviour.

 The plus point, at least as far as getting junior programmers on board, is that App Inventor is easy to use. Code is simply snapped together to allow basic events to take place.

 That, however, is also part of the problem. As developers become more adept, the limitations of snapping blocks together – in comparison to being able to write code – become exposed.

 As Darien Graham-Smith concluded in a recent review of App Inventor for PC Pro (see further reading: “Anyone with the programming nous to make full use of App Inventor’s abilities will surely prefer a language that doesn’t force you to pedantically assemble every function, procedure and event out of multicoloured blocks.”

 Google acknowledges App Inventors’ educational route, paying deference to MIT’s Scratch project. But while the system is driven by an educational perspective, it remains restricted by its approach. In fact, Graham-Smith believes App Inventor could actually drive people away from programming unless the Blocks Editor improves.

 The system is, in short, a nice attempt to get people interested in the finer elements of programming. But successful apps are inherently much more complex than pushing Lego together.

Further reading:

 http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2010/08/19/242454/A-level-results-mark-39worrying-trend39-for-IT.htm

 http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2010/09/07/googles-app-inventor/

 http://appinventor.googlelabs.com/about/