Posts Tagged ‘convergence’

Mobile Delusions

June 14, 2010

2010 – the Year of The Tiger, according to the Chinese calendar – and the Year of Mobile, according to technology experts.

 The plethora of internet-enabled, handheld devices means analysts and journalists are queuing up to report how important mobile will be in this first year of the new decade.

 There’s just one catch; every year – since the hype surrounding WAP at the turn of the Millennium – has meant to be the time mobile comes of age. So, why should 2010 be any different?

 The rhetorical question – given previous false dawns – is a good one. But let’s not be too negative. Now is your opportunity to take the challenges associated with mobile and make a real, lasting difference.

 Mobile is hitting the mainstream this year, but not in the way your business might expect. The high profile nature of certain platforms – notably Apple’s iPhone – will mean the IT department is likely to come under pressure to create a public-facing app.

 Before you follow the herd, take a step back and think about the business reasons. How will your application create a return on investment (ROI)?

 Take mobile banking as an example. Certain high profile financial institutions are heavily promoting their newly created iPhone Apps as a way of completing banking on the move.

 Great, but how many people will really want to complete banking transactions on their mobile phone? First, not everyone will have an iPhone; of those that do, not everyone will want to use their iPhone to complete banking.

 Second, think of the interface. Not every transaction is best suited to being completed in the palm of the hand. Third, think of the security implications. Many consumers all still not keen to undertake home-based online banking, never mind on the move through a portable device (which they often lose or change without wiping data !).

 What you’re left with is probably a small percentage of users that are willing to use their phones to complete transactions. And that means creating an ROI is difficult, especially once you’ve spent a great amount of money developing the app – which is likely to be for one device (the iPhone), rather than multiple platforms.

 Such issues mean you will need to make sure the business understands the challenges and opportunities of mobile. There’s nothing wrong with creating an iPhone app as a means of advertising and as a means of showing your company is first.

 But don’t – at the same time – expect a big financial ROI. Being first has an associated range of pitfalls. And if you’re second, don’t fear about being left and behind.

 Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race. And in the fast-changing year of the mobile, well thought-out business plans will always win in the long run.


Single User Experience

April 12, 2010

You’ve decoupled your enterprise architecture and implemented a service-oriented approach that makes use of business process management and single sign-on. So, now what?

Your using rich internet applications and making use of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies. So what now?

Leading companies have already begun work on developing “Single User Experience’s (SUE)”. SUE takes the approach that the application is specific to an individual users specific needs, and not an all purpose applications used by many different users for slightly different purposes.

For example, take the word processor: with it you can create documents, letters, fax sheets, memo’s and various other formats of what are essentially documents. However a word processor presents the same options and user interface irrespective of what type of document you create.

It’s no wonder that research has identified that most people only use less than 20% of a word processor capability and virgin users face a steep learning curve.

In the context of SUE a word processor would change it’s menu’s, icons and actions specific to the type of document you are working with or to the type of documents you work within a single context (at home you mainly use one for letters, whereas work mainly for structured documents).

Thus access and ease of use of the tool becomes greatly honed and much more efficient as you do not have to plough through hundreds of irrelevant options.

The concept of SUE can take in many factors to create a more efficient and dynamic interface e.g.:

  • Role: The purpose of your use of the application e.g. Secretary, Author, Researcher, Student
  • Context: The purpose of your use of the tool customer enquiry, sell to a prospect, or provide information to a collegue
  • Channel: The device the application is being accessed from e.g. mobile, PC, Kiosk, Call Centre
  • Location: Where the application is being used from e.g. Home, Office, In-transit (car, plane, train)
  • Locale: Country from which the application is being accessed

In short, give your technology a persona. Once workers have a single user experience, your business and your customers will quickly feel the benefits.


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.


Mobile Wars 1: Cross Platform Mobile

February 18, 2010

The world has gone mobile. Workers are logging-on to the corporate network through handheld devices and finalising business deals on the move. Everything – in short – is changing very quickly, but not as quickly as it could be.

 The explanation for such lethargy is a lack of standards. So, your firm has a great idea for a new business application? Great, but which platform do you want the application to run on?

 That probably sounds like a question of mixed priorities – surely it would be better to design the application first and then think about the operating system (or systems) you want to use? After all, business priorities – and user preferences – change as quickly as technology develops.

 Unfortunately, a lack of mobile development standards mean you will probably have to start your design with a decision on the operating system. If you want a mobile application, you have to write the code in different technologies for different operating systems on separate devices, such as for the Apple iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry, Java/Symbian and Windows-powered phones.

 In short, developers are expected to design once and write many, many times – a method of mobile development that is simply not viable. More to the point, the plethora of mobile standards is actually crazy.

 Only a fool would want to keep working on the same piece of software over and over again. Writing multiple versions of the same app is timely, costly and wasteful. It prevents business from moving on to the next idea; it prevents firms from being innovative.

 What your business needs is a method for development that creates standardisation and allows IT professionals to write an application once and then publish it many times for different operating systems. So, where is that alternative?

 Step forwards Rhomobile, an open-source Ruby-based mobile development framework for business software. Instead of relying on proprietary languages, Rhomobile’s Rhodes framework makes use of HTML. It take a Model driven Approach to development: write once in HTML and publish many times to individual platform standards.

 The result is portability and the encouragement of development across multiple mobile operating systems, from Google Android to Symbian. It is an approach that must be encouraged.

Writing once and publishing many times will help businesses to drive down costs and release applications at greater speed. The result will be quicker innovation that provides real business benefits for end-users.

 If you think the pace of change is fast now, wait until we’ve sorted out the mobile development standards.


RIM = Rich Internet Mobile ?

February 1, 2010

Designing and creating a site for mobile devices is now easy. Rather than relying on a separate and proprietary programming language, developers can create mobile sites using tried and tested technologies from the web.

 Be careful, though. Beyond the promised land of easy roll out lies the potential minefield of poor user experience. To this end, some element of self-restraint is required for companies creating mobile apps. What works on the web using a PC doesn’t automatically translate to the mobile.

 It can be easy to get carried away when designing mobile apps. There’s a temptation to add as many elements as possible, just to ensure all possible customer demands are covered. Reign in your expectations.

 Think of your own use of enterprise applications; how many functions do you actually use? When it comes to standard word processing and spreadsheet tools, do you actually use more than a dozen functions?

 Apply the same logic to your creation of mobile apps and avoid being too rich. Rather than trying to be all things to all users, hone the most important elements that will help ensure a strong customer experience.

 When you have a set of core functions, keep the display simple. Use a basic graphical user interface (GUI), steering clear of complex widgets and graphics.

 An over-complicated GUI – relying on the manipulation of multiple items – will be frustrating to use. It also is unlikely to suit the form and function of the mobile device.

 Keep in mind the limited screen real estate of modern mobile phones. Despite ongoing developments in rollable screen technology (which I blogged about last month), most mobile devices only provide a small display.

 If users only draw upon a limited amount of functionality in their enterprise apps, it’s extremely unlikely they’re going to want more items on a portable device. More to the point, they probably can’t.

 In addition to a limited screen estate, mobile phones are often restricted by their reliance on higher bandwidth. Move to a place with a limited connection and mobile apps can take a considerable amount of time to download or respond.

 With access speeds being so inconsistent, it simply does not make sense to load mobile applications with flashy graphics and interactive features.

 So, avoid being rich and keep you mobile software simple. Rather than overdressing your applications, find an approach that provides high usability. The reward will come in the form of a great customer experience.


Mobile usability

December 4, 2009

The business world’s suddenly gone mobile, with workers logging on to enterprise applications through handheld devices. Sounds good, but are mobiles really ready?

Increasing hype surrounding cloud computing suggests more and more enterprise apps will be accessed online. Email is already a mobile mainstay, thanks in large part to the speed of BlackBerry Enterprise Server. But for many other tools, there is still some way to go before mobile working becomes a business reality.

The most obvious facet of mobile devices is their size; they are – of course – much smaller than their desktop cousins. Which means that for content heavy processes, creating usable apps for smaller devices can be a difficult task.

Think of your key enterprise tools; think of how much space you need to work with and manipulate the information held on your spreadsheets. Now think about undertaking that manipulation on a web-based mobile device.

For enterprises, going truly mobile means making sure form and function supports usability. So, what do we need to do that is special for handheld devices?

Some experts believe the first port of call should be the programming language, with proponents keen to push the significance of XHTML Mobile Profile (XHTML MP), a hypertextual standard designed specifically for mobile devices. However, such a harbour would be the wrong destination for two key reasons.

First, XHTML MP is by no means a common framework; different devices require specific tweaks and adaptations. Second, processor power means mobile devices are no longer constrained and creating a specific framework is a waste of time and effort.

Technology has moved on and browser capability has improved. Flash and Java-based applications are also beginning to find a suitable home on portable technologies.

But other problems do remain paramount – and, notably, the screen is still small. If you are going to work with enterprise information, you will need a bigger display. And when it comes to displays for mobile devices, I am open to potential solutions.

Philips has pioneered developments in rollable screen technology, which could help users work on larger mobile devices. High definition colour and video-based formats are still some time away, however.

Plastic Logic, meanwhile, is just months away from launching the first electronic screen, an A4-sized intelligent display. But again, the company doubts the market is currently ready for the roll-out screen.

Give it time. In a few years, we will be all carrying enterprise-ready mobile devices that allow us to manipulate information on the move. And when I am right, you can remember that you heard it here first.


Further reading


Everythings going mobile…

November 2, 2009

One out of every seven minutes of media consumption today takes place on mobile devices, according to new research from IPG’s Universal McCann and AOL. How can companies prepare for – and communicate with – their customers in the mobile age?

For many organisations, throwing out the existing rulebook might be a good start. Too many firms still think of customers and customer service in an old world style.

Such old world thinking suggests customers are people that usually buy from you in a face-to-face format, where service is all about building interaction and managing delivery. And that’s where the catch comes.

Interaction and delivery are crucial but such tenets of customer service need to be managed across a series of channels – from face-to-face to internet, and from call centres to mobile devices.

Mobile might seem like a fairly insignificant element of the customer service puzzle right now, with analyst Freeform Dynamics suggesting as much as 60% of users rarely or never take advantage of advanced services such as information, navigation and social networking.

Expect that picture to change and quickly. As stated above, individuals are already consuming media on mobile devices and that is simply the starting point, with mobile usage expected to grow by as much as 60% by 2011.

Such growth needs a strategy. Do not make the mistake that many firms made on the transition from old world selling to web-enabled delivery. Too many companies bolt internet and call centre offerings to existing face-to-face services.

Integration should be your watchword and you should identify the existing services that your customers could use to connect with you through a mobile device. People use mobile phones on the move and on an ad-hoc basis.

The success of the apps service on Apple’s iPhone shows that individuals are simply looking for useful tools that can help them fill otherwise dead time. Such tools could be games or enterprise apps, but they might be a sales channel to your company – and you need to plan accordingly.

Analyse mobile devices, speak to your customers and develop an interface that helps your customers speak to – and buy from – your business. Such developments could take the form of an advocacy network on Twitter, where customers help to spread the benefits of your service.

The developments could also take the form of mobile payments, one of the fastest growing areas of online purchasing. Think, plan and integrate your customer delivery interface across all channels.

You have been warned. Don’t get left behind in the old world because the age of mobility is fast approaching.

Further reading


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


Devices: What comes first, the device or the application?

June 21, 2009


The new age of collaboration and mobility is a wonderful thing – colleagues and connections can be contacted any time, anywhere.


Individuals with all-singing and all-dancing handheld devices, such as iPhones, BlackBerrys and smartphones, can stay connected through a variety of applications.


The result is that users are busily downloading applications for a range of devices. From instant messaging to Facebook and from current affairs to games, individuals are finding ways to run loved applications on their favourite devices.


It all sounds like a new, collaborative age – but sometimes, we’re just too clever for our own good and user experiences can be patchy. The main problem is that the chosen method of application development is often the wrong way round.


Most organisations are prioritising devices. As a result, many businesses recognise more of their customers are using high power mobile devices and are retrofitting their existing applications to handheld devices.


Sounds good, in theory – but the problem is that most applications are designed with one platform in mind. And as applications are pushed across platforms, users are often left with is a poor quality experience.


In practice, we should create an alternative method of development: a need for software should be identified, and the application then created and designed for a specific device.


Second, when considering whether to put an application on a device, companies must also consider whether the tool is appropriate for the device.


How many people chose to do their online banking through a TV? Would you look at your bank statements in front of your family and friends? More specifically, would you want to fill out a lengthy mortgage application form on a mobile phone?


Other examples are not hard to find. How will workers make best use of essential enterprise applications – such as word processing and spreadsheet software – in the mobile age?


Such questions require a significant step change in the way we create applications – in short, businesses must recognise that the design of the application, and a consideration of the device, is absolutely crucial.


Once firms have decided the functionality is appropriate they can then design for the specific screen estate. This method will help prevent over-invention and ensure users are exploiting the right channel for the right purpose.


Certain applications – such as word processing, social networking and location-based services – are quickly becoming a mobile necessity. Your workers will expect to have devices that provide an intuitive link to their favourite applications.


We have a fantastic opportunity to allow our employees to collaborate in new and innovative ways – but only if our mobile devices allow us to make best use of our favourite applications.