Category Archives: Technology
The App Stores are one of the key pillars on which the SmartPhones have built their success. Not that mobile applications where only introduced at the time the stores became available, but they solved nearly all of the issues that existed until them.
First, it was very difficult for developers to find customers, and for customers to find the applications they wanted. This also discouraged many from investing time, effort and money in developing these native applications, which resulted in a low number of available ones.
Second, all the logistics of applications installed in devices rather than browsed from devices where not solved, in some cases falling into the traditional burdens of software distribution. Installing, uninstalling and specifically maintaining your applications up to date was not an easy thing to do.
Last, but not least, charging for the apps meant each developer had to find a solution for managing the payments, with PayPal having been a traditional partner on this space.
But suddendly these App Stores arrive, and buying applications becomes as easy as buying any other article online, making the installation and uninstallation of applications as easy as 1-2-3, and more importantly, you no longer need to worry about keeping your software up to date. The App Store will tell you and let you update what you want, when you want it. Easy right?. Bringing developers and consumers to a single place has also boosted both the availability and consumption of applications, with numbers of applications in the hundreds of thousands.
So are these new stores the panacea for software distribution?. I suspected so, and I kind of confirmed it when Apple launched the App Store for Mac. The concept is reaching the desktop. So this is when things get interesting. Can this be applied to your corporate environment?. I hope so.
There are a number of issues typically associated to large estates of PCs usually running Windows.
First, one size does not fit all, so you will face different users with different software needs, meaning that you will need to find a balance between standardization (critical to keep support and maintenance costs under control) and the specific needs of your user communities.
Second, you will have to automate as much as possible the possible of provisioning applications upon users requests, and more importantly, keep an inventory of all of this, as you want to know who is using what to avoid any licensing issues.he
Cost. This is usually tackled by complex approval processes which in the end do not really cap the amount of money a user spends on software which is likely to be rarely used.
And not to talk about software updates and patching.
When you look at these traditional issues, it seems miraculous that the App Stores have achieved to resolve most of this issues for a wider, more diverse crowd than the one in any of the Company.
Applying the concept
So how about delivering vanilla desktops or laptops to your employees, and giving them a budget according to their profile?. If a concept such as an App Store could exist in the corporate environment, users could have a budget to spend there. Go to the supermarket, choose what you need and install it. You are running out of budget? Maybe you can return to the App Store that application you downloaded which no longer you are using.
This, if tied to an inventory of licenses, will surely help software costs under control on a very predictable manner, while giving a much better user experience. Your users are now autonomous and can self manage their software, which would also have a very positive impact in your helpdesk and engineering budgets.
Did I talk about software updates and patching? How much money do you spend on that?
I am sure there are lots of challenges to be solved before such a concept can be applied completely in the Enterprise world, but after seeing what Apple has achieved with the Mac App Store I am hopeful it will come…
Sometimes, implications are hidden by the glowing success of certain new technologies. This is exactly what is happening with the current smartphones, or I would better say AppPhones. A trend opened by Apple in 2007 when the first iPhone was launched, ever since then most of the companies providing end customer services through smartphones are choosing to do it over native applications that are downloaded from their respective application store.
So far nothing wrong with this, actually from an end user perspective I am personally a great fan of this way of delivering contents and services, as they can provide an incredible user experience as well as providing full integration with the smartphone features like the camera, in-built GPS, compass and whatever will come in the next generations, with NFC chips already knocking on the door.
A bit of history
It is, however, when you look at the evolution of technology in the last few decades that you find this trend quite curious, as it implies effectively going against some of the basic principles we have been enacting for long years.
Think about traditional systems up to the 80’s where client-server computing used to be the rule. No middleware systems in between, and full blown applications (with exceptions like mainframes accessed through emulators) installed in end users computers.
The web comes in the 90’s, and soon browser-based, thin client computing is understood to be the way to go. Numerous advantages, like eliminating the error-prone processes of software distribution and patching the distributed applications. Looked very good and actually was (and still is) the rule up to nowadays. Except for mobile applications.
Back for good, sometimes
Back to client-server architectures, albeit in most of the cases a middleware will be paving the way between the client application and the back end systems, but client-server, anyway. It must be said, though, that the traditional burdens of distributed computing have been brilliantly solved by the companies ruling the mobile platform industry, with simplified application download, update, install and uninstall processes that eliminate nearly all the issues while maintaining all the advantages of native applications in terms of responsiveness and user experience. So brilliant is the concept of an Application Store or Marketplace, that I bet we will be seeing more applications for this concept outside the mobile ecosystem.
So back for good, I would say, in this case.
Back to square one, in others
Another traditional battle, specially since the early days of the web, has been standardization. Not only a problem for users who had the freedom to choose their browser of choice, but also for developers which had to write, test and maintain
code for many different browsers which did their own interpretations of the existing standards. This had improved in the last years though through greater standardization, so now we could talk about tuned versions of the same development rather than multiplied developments for different browsers.
Now think about mobile applications from this perspective, and here is where I see clearly a return to the beginning. Multiple platforms, with no grounds in common and even different programming languages, means that a company developing an application for Apple, Android and RIM devices, needs effectively to write 3 different applications. Of course design and some coding frameworks will surely be reused, but most of the work needs to be redone. Promising frameworks are out there to help bridge this gap, however, it looks that in this case we are back to square one.
From a technology point of view, NFC (Near Field Communications) might not imply a great revolution. In a nutshell, it is an evolution of the RFID shortfield technology that has been in use for years now, adding the possibility of bidirectional communications. With RFID, your device could send some data to the receiver, but no dialogue was possible, allowing for very simple, low value applications.
So being an improvement from RFID, there is nothing too fancy about it as a technology feature. Smartphones today support various types of communications which serve different purposes, like their Wi Fi support, 3G and Bluetooth. So what is NFC bringing to the party?. The main beauty might be in its own nature. It is near field, which means it has very short range, typically up to 4 inches. This has a double advantage, first, it makes it more difficult to intercept (even though it is not impossible) and secondly, it demands very little power from the device.
Finally a solution that allows communication between two devices positioned close enough in a reasonably private manner, that demands very little space and power. How is this little thing becoming the next big thing in Mobile?.
Payments, payments and payments
A number of industries are really excited about the massive introduction of this technology in our devices. Key players from Device Manufacturers, Carriers, Financial Services Institutions, Internet giants, all of them are making their moves in the adoption of this technology. Samsung is including NFC chips in their latest Smartphones, while Google’s wallet makes use of NFC chips to replace your old fashioned plastic credit card. Even AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have teamed to create the ISIS commerce network supporting NFC payments.
In essence, the NFC chip can communicate with the point of sales device in the merchant, transmitting the necessary information so that the payment transaction can be performed, exactly as you would do with your standard credit card. Typically there will be an application in your smartphone that allows you to store your credit and debit cards information in a secure manner, and that requests a PIN number in order to access that information, securing the usage of the virtual card stored in your phone.
These applications would also allow for your card issuer to provision your card over the air onto your phone.
So far it looks interesting and convenient, but not a killer app. Even if we consider that credit card fraud due to card cloning might be more difficult with the introduction of NFC than it is today, at least for the moment.
The real beauty
It is not that you replace the plastic, it is that a whole new channel is opened, allowing Merchants and Financial Institutions to enrich the moment of the payment and use that interaction with the customer to add value, link and increase customer loyalty.
The combination of a chip for performing the physical payment transaction and an application driving the process, is the real beauty behind the NFC application to mobile payments. Now you can have coupons or virtual vouchers delivered by the merchant to your phone at any time, that you can redeem to make part of the payment. What about promotional codes delivered to your phone?. Points redemption, loyalty cards… All become now part of the ecosystem surrounding the little chip, to make the most of every time you tap your phone to pay.
Google seems to have understood pretty well the broader boundaries of what NFC is bringing to the table, with products like Wallet and Offers, which cover the whole range of services for Businesses to make the most out of the new technology. Add this to geolocation and in-door location and you can start to explore the benefits of pushing offers to the potential customers that are on the surroundings of your store, which they can instantly redeem at the moment of payment.
It will be some years for this technology to be massively present, with a conservative prediction being that it would be present in 50% of the phones by 2014. So we seem to be giving the first steps on this thrilling technology, both on the physical availability of the technology on our devices and on the number of applications we will see coming and sophisticating not only the payments process itself, but the whole relationship between Businesses, Merchants and Customers.
Thrilling, at the very least.
It has now been a while since tablets made their way through. The concept has been flying around for some time, but only came to become a massive thing in April 2010 after Apple presented the iPad in public. It has been hardly 18months since then, and now the market is fully populated by a number of manufacturers which are pushing different visions of the concept into the market.
When you look at the evolution of the super-sized iPhone, it is really surprising to see how fast and deep it has come into our lives. From the original and probably most widely use of the pad as a browsing device, news reader and of course, gaming companion, there has been an incredible evolution in the uses of not only the iPad but the tablet concept in general.
Now most of the companies publishing consumer applications for SmartPhones are developing specific variants for tablets making good use of the larger screen and interaction capabilities of these devices. Look at Banks and you will see a fierce competition to target applications to their higher end customers based on tablets, where the graphical capabilities and the touch-based interaction model redefine a completely new stage in user experience.
But all of the above is just the somehow natural (although fast) evolution in the usage of the technology. However, there is one other aspect of this technology that looks very interesting to me, and is the impact these devices (and why not recognize it, specifically the iPad) is having in the Enterprise world.
It seems that the way Execs have fallen in love with the device is helping drive the way into the Enterprise at a speed and path that is breaking most of the existing paradigms. The debate is no longer whether a device is appropriate or not for its introduction into the Enterprise, but rather the other way around. And this is happening really quickly. So now employees are allowed to use their iPads at work, capture notes in meetings, read email in their tablets rather than in their corporate laptops and do almost everything except probably content (documents, presentations, spreadsheets) without the need of a full blown computer.
How many laptops could you see in a meeting of the Board?. You would be surprised by the number of iPads. Does this have a real impact in decission making and access to information in these forums? Very probably yes. So this is being a real driver with real examples out there like Standard Chartered Bank.
So this new revolution is bringing to life concepts like Bring your own device and Self Service IT with which large Corporations have been struggling for some time, but all of this seems to be finding a fast track as the demand from the technology comes top down, which is just the contrary to how normally technology gets into an Enterprise. Can this be the next big thing?.
Now that geolocation is massively present in our lives, and used on lots of mobile applications, a new hot topic in mobile technology seems to be coming. It is indoor, short range location.
Some time ago I discovered that in a popular supermarket in Singapore the shopping carts had an LCD screen that showed information relevant to the section you were walking through at that point in time. At first I thought “well, the latest form of publicity in the kingdom of advertisement”, something fancy, but just that. Or was it something else?. Are they just showing you offers that are at the reach of your fingertips, or are they doing something else?. What if they are tracking the movements of the cart by some sort of indoor-GPS so they can know what are the shopping and movement patterns of the visitors?.
This seems like a very interesting application to every public space that receives visitors or customers, as it provides a very useful and detailed insight of the movements of the visitors within the space, also being able to detect hot spots that draw visitors attention, what are the places, on the other hand, that are barely visited, and many other parameters that define the analytics of how users move themselves in any open space.
So probably these guys are not just offering me the current promotion on house wines as I walk by the spirits section, but they are actually tracking, recording, and analyzing all my movements in the store. This way they can know where do I spend more time, whether I come back to a section where I have been before, maybe indicating the products are not too clearly shown as I needed to come back and find something.
The technology seems to be very interesting in its practical applications, but in this particular case it is very probably based on RFID, which means that each cart probably has a passive RFID and they have a number of receivers in the store to track our movements. Not rocket science, definitely, but a very intelligent way of having some insight onto an otherwise very complex problem to resolve.
Removing the cart
Having recognized the value of indoor location and visitor tracking, we can imagine a lot of applications for this, virtually anywhere subject to receiving visits of customers. Airports, Supermarkets, any type of stores, even bank branches can benefit of this to optimize resources and know what are the patterns that drive customer behaviour in real life interactions -as opposed to virtual interactions over the internet, which are much easier to track-.
But the fundamental limitation seems to be how do we stick our customers and visitors to an RFID. Easy in the case of a supermarket where you are very likely to pick a shopping cart, but complicated in many other situations. However, there seems to be some possibilities in using three forms of signals that your mobile phone can be publicly sharing: TMSI (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity), Bluetooth and Wi Fi. Whilst Bluetooth and Wi Fi depend on the user having this feature activated on the phone, they are quite good sources of information to perform indoor tracking.
However the first one seems to have a broader application, as it is first anonymous, resolving the traditional privacy issue of location and tracking, and second, is always active. It is based on a regular communication all mobiles perform with their base stations in order to report their location. These communications can be picked by indoor antennas and can be used for locating the position of the user with a precision down to 1-2 m. Good enough isn’t it?.
There is a very interesting paper that describes this technology in detail as well as providing a pilot study with very interesting results. As stated in the paper, this is the having Google Analytics for real life customer interactions…
What do you prefer, your fancy MacBook Pro or the corporate laptop you have just been handed over?. Or maybe you want to stick to Windows but rather carry your stylish Vaio. There seems to be a new trend by which your personal devices are being allowed into the corporate world. This opens a very interesting debate with very interesting ramifications. Studies by research firms show that, although current CIOs are quite reluctant to allow this to happen, they also recognize this will eventually happen in the next few years.
This is broadly known as BYOD, Bring Your Own Device. Which effectively means that the company allows you to use your own devices to perform your duties, instead of providing you with a corporate laptop and smartphone, to say. Normally this comes at a price, which is that the company will not give you technical support for these, however, you might still be comfortable with this as anyway you didn’t have any support for this at home did you?.
Let’s go wild for a second and imagine that we are allowed to take our lovely MacBook to work, so let’s think about the implications and interesting topics this opens. Rather than doing a deep analysis of all of these implications I would leave these for further posts, so just take this as food for thought for the time being.
- Self service IT: Is it possible to simplify the current Corporate IT Support structures in our organizations?
- Mobile Device Management: How do we manage the devices we allow into our network, regardless of who owns them?. Remember BES for Blackberry? Now we have a broader landscape.
- Application Management: How do we balance the freedom of choice versus the control of licenses and software costs?. This specific topic opens one idea I like very much, the idea of extending the AppStore concept to the Enterprise World. What about creating an internal marketplace where applications can be downloaded and installed from?. Users can have a budget assigned so they can manage which applications they need and which they don’t. Sounds good right? Let’s explore this in another post.
- Intellectual property: What are the implications in this space? How do we establish some boundaries between what you create on your free time versus what you create on your time at work?.
I think this is a very interesting topic to explore in detail, so don’t be surprised if you find further posts on the implications of this topic because yes, I am one of those that would love to bring my MacBook to work…
So finally I found the time and the theme to start my own blog.
I guess the most difficult thing when starting a new blog is defining what is all of this going to be about. I just realized that this blog will not have a single theme. It will be around a few things for which I feel specially attracted or passionate, and hopefully the posts here will be around them. And what are these things? Everything within Technology, Banking IT, Aviation, Cars and Travel. And sophistication, I love sophisticated stuff.
Quite disperse, yes, but I guess there is something in common. How these industries have excelled in some aspects, and how these can be applied to the others. Don’t be surprised if you find a review about a flight or a restaurant I enjoyed, or a funny application for a new technology I just learned about.
Above all, the whole idea behind opening this blog is about finding how technology and sophistication can be applied to the Enterprise World by becoming a bit wild. Some of you would agree that in todays average enterprise, the application of technology is somehow restricted by policies, controls and other forms of governance.
So this tiny little place in the web is where we can all go wild and imagine how those innovative technologies that we use, and those we only read about, could break through in the Enterprise World and find fabulous applications. Let’s go wild.
The journey starts, Welcome onboard!