Category Archives: Context

Mobility – it is not about what you think!

We sometimes forget about the one critical component in enterprise mobility; the one thing that allows the enterprise to be out there and extend itself beyond its four walls.  Sorry… It is not the technology.  Technology is great but it is only a means to an end.

It is more important than technology.

More important than the hardware, the software, the coding or even the connectivity.

I am talking about the end user; the mobile employee.  I am talking about you and me!  Although mobility is about the device, the application, the technology and the connectivity… at the same time it is more about something else… someone else!

It is not about what the latest device can do… but it is about what that device allows us to do that is so important both for the consumer as well as for the enterprise.

Mobile technology is about liberating the mobile worker… and the mobile consumer.  It is about taking the enterprise anywhere and everywhere.  It is about taking brands outside of the stores and into a consumer’s hearts and minds!

I think I may have gotten carried away with the last phrase… :)

Freedom In Mobility

The criticism (more like the complaint) we hear a lot these days has to do with our ‘over-connectedness.’

We are told that people are too connected… That it is interfering with personal lives and affecting our quality of life.

Really?

Is it technology’s fault or is it our inability to say no to technology that is affecting us?

It is like you or I walking into an all-you-can-eat buffet. We have the freedom to eat all we want. But do we? Or do we draw the line somewhere? (I know many don’t).

Connectivity and being connected everywhere (that’s what we call mobility – or better yet freedom) is not ruining our society.

Is it that we are allowing our priorities to get out of whack? Or did that mobile device force you to…?

Mobile technology offers us the freedom to be connected and to choose when to be connected – through that fabulous little feature…the off button.

Isn’t it just like everything else in life?

How Smart is your Smartphone?

A few months ago my friends at Soluteo asked me to work with them on a short presentation on “How Smart is your Smartphone?”  It was one of those fun projects and the output which was presented about a month ago is up on Slideshare and embedded below.

Although part of the presentation is a bit tongue-in cheek we are strong believers in the final answer.   Your Smartphone is only as smart as …

  • The end user?
  • The apps?
  • The application developers?
  • The device manufacturers?
  • The network?

Or is there something else?  Let’s narrow it to an enterprise environment.    What makes a smartphone smart for an enterprise?  Feel free to comment after the slides.

The Sometimes Unbelievable Allure of Mobile

The paragraph in quotes below was my first draft introduction to a report we were writing for a client on the sustainability of a specific business model in mobile.  Of course I can’t say much about it but I am laughing at myself for what I initially thought was going to be the introduction to a very ‘serious’ report for a private equity-type firm.  I was more inspired than what I should have been for such a deliverable… so I took it out.

However, it does make me think about the power, the attraction… the allure of mobile.  It is hard to explain but I know you are reading these words right now because it draws you as well.

Like any real geographer will tell you, everything happens in space and geography is about space. Similarly, everything happens in mobile and mobile is about everything. Why? Because mobile is where ever you find yourself. Chances are, you are reading this and your mobile device is very close to you. It is the most intimate and personal of technologies. It is with you wherever you go and knows more about you than most people even tell their spouses. Its portability has made it your most constant companion and I am certain it has helped you get out of a jam more than once.

For these and many other reasons, over the last few years, mobile has become the place to go.
With all of its allure, mobile has not yet come of age.  The industry is still in development; still growing. Business models are born and become obsolete almost as quickly as devices come to market and become yesterday’s news.

What is it about mobile?

I know some of you are thinking about the money.  And of course that is a very strong pull.  But go deeper than that.  Are we so drawn to mobile because mobile is us?  Is it so personal and intimate that it is an expression (a reflection) of us?  A reflection of you.  A reflection of me.

What applications do you have on your phone that are representative of you?  Do you carry a Bible on your smartphone?  Do you play games?  What music do you listen to?  Where did you last check in?  Do you look at pornography on it?  Do you have your family pictures?  Are all your passwords to your bank accounts on your device?

If you leave home without it in the morning… do you drive back home even though you will be late for work?  (I have done that in the past).

If you die tomorrow, and all that is left of you is that smartphone… what will I learn about you?

Mobile Customer Advocates

Time and time again I see one thing being overlooked in mobile.

Can you venture a guess?

Would you believe that organizations actually forget about the mobile user and the mobile experience somewhere between concept and implementation?   This is not done on purpose or through some evil plot from the tethered zombies.  It just happens.

Ideally a mobile project stems from a carefully thought out mobile strategy which began (hopefully) by asking relevant questions that revolved around the mobile user.  Your mobile strategy is an extension of you, your brand, your products, your image, your reputation and even your people.  It reflects you.  It represents you.  It is you.

But a lot can happen from mobile strategy… to mobile project… to mobile implementation (or mobile strategy execution).

Many times the mobile user is forgotten during those deep dive architecture sessions.  As we talk about business requirements and time to market we forget to stop and ask the question: how is this decision going to impact the person we are doing this for?  Does this impact the mobile experience? If the answer no… then great! Move on.  If the answer is yes… then let’s at least talk about it.

It is almost as if someone should be present at every meeting representing your customer.  Your mobile customer.  You are doing this for him or her… why not have them integrated into your process?  Of course I am not talking about just anyone off the street, but someone who will stubbornly represent the customer for whom you are doing this.  Someone with a mobile angle and deep mobile user experience who will ask those sometimes forgotten questions.  Let’s call these people (for lack of a better term) – mobile customer advocates.

If you are a small and nimble mobile development shop you don’t have this problem.  You don’t have to read this (in fact go away).  But if you are a large enterprise executing a mobile strategy make sure you don’t drop the mobile user from the project plan at any point.

But the business represents the customer you say?  Yes … and no.  Remember that your business units already have a full time role and are busy with their day to day tasks… plus they may be looking at that mobile application as a potential increase in revenue and are focused on that one point.  Or maybe you just told them they needed mobile and they are simply complying with your wishes.

It may in fact be an easier process than you think… it may just be about asking the questions…

  • how do these decisions impact our customers when mobile?
  • how do these decisions impact the mobile user experience?

Next time you go into a meeting simply put on your Mobile Customer Advocate hat… and ask those questions.  You may be surprised at the direction your project takes.

Mobile Strategy for Small Business: It’s About Local Convenience

Small businesses are an under served market in mobility. We constantly hear about the importance of small businesses to our economies, yet today few would argue that this sector is properly served and serviced from a mobility standpoint. Of course, carriers have plans but many times they simply rebrand a family plan as a small business plan and push it out. The effort to sell to the smallest of small businesses is often not worth the return to some of the larger players. This is all improving and will continue to do so as the cloud and open source makes business models that cater to the smallest firms much more attractive and manageable. As a small business owner you may already be seeing some improvement and your mobile strategy is starting to take shape.

Or maybe as a small business owner you still feel ignored and you don’t know what to do with this mobility thing. My humble guess would be that the vast majority of small business owners are not thinking or even remotely contemplating a mobile strategy. There are many different angles to take on the topic of small business and mobility, but for today and for now let’s just focus on one part of it: as a small business would you benefit from a mobile application?

Small Business and Mobile Applications

The simple answer, and I am sure many would agree with this, is no. The time and effort required to design, build, distribute, market and maintain a mobile application is not what you are in business for. A few may try to sell the idea of a mobile application to you but you will be hard pressed to make a case for it.

Without a mobile app you are seemingly left without mobile options. The thought of not being present when the need arises in your customers (when mobile) may worry you. In fact it may even terrify you. This is where search in general and local search in particular become your best option.

A Case for Local Search

Human geographers will tell you that everything happens in space; a particular point in space. All human interactions happen somewhere. For you as a small business owner your work, your clients and customers are mostly local. This is why local search is your friend, why competition in this space will heat up and why existing players with key advantages stand to benefit the most.

It is about convenience … local convenience!
It is the middle of January and you and your family are returning from Costa Rica where you just had a wonderful eco-tourism vacation. You are happy to hear that you just missed some of the coldest weather in years… unfortunately you walk into a freezing cold house due to a broken down furnace.

What do you do?

  1. Blame the kids?
  2. Boot up your computer in the basement?
  3. Go back to Costa Rica?
  4. Take out your smartphone?

If you answered ‘take out your smartphone‘ you answered the way I did.  The other option of digging through night tables and recycling boxes to find a telephone directory doesn’t even enter my mind for this scenario.  Your phone is right there with you.

Now what would you do?

  • Browse to your favourite search engine?
  • Then search for ‘emergency furnace services Toronto
  • Click on the first few options?
  • Click on an ad?

Or would you instead…

  • Open up a local search application
  • Search for ‘emergency furnace services Toronto?
  • Click on ‘closest to your home‘ option
  • Look at the first few (perhaps check a video)
  • Pick one and call them immediately!

We spend our money and buy a majority of our services locally. Our context is local!  We may research products on the web from around the world… but when it comes to actually purchasing them we do a lot of that locally.

As a small business owner seeking presence in the minds and wallets of mobile consumers you want to be there when the moment of need arises.  Lots to think about. We will try and come back to this topic over the next few weeks.

Here are some other things to consider…
How social can a local search app be?
What about product availability and inventory?
Menu and prices?
So what other things could be leveraged on top of a local search application?
In your opinion is local search the best option for small business?

Of Context and Content

Here is an obvious statement for you to think about:

In mobile, context and content are inseperable.

Or at least they should be considered inseparable.

Context will affect the way you relate to the content available to you.  At times content may affect the way you relate to your context and even force you to change your context.  However, if I were to choose the stronger one of the two I would have to say that context will win most of the time.

This is where the lifeflows and workflows idea may come in handy.

Do you have any examples where this is true? How has this affected the design of you mobile applications?

Mobile Application Development And Consumers – Going From Workflows to Lifeflows

Much has been written on how innovative ideas are born, evolved and tested first on consumers before they make their way into the enterprise. We have seen it with Web 2.0 and social media and social networking.  This is absolutely true and the consumer market proves to be a wonderful and invaluable living lab for the enterprise.  In most cases the enterprise doesn’t have a choice since after the consumer market tests and likes something they take it to work!

Becoming A Better Mobile Application Developer for Consumers

Today I am going to propose something that will go the other way instead. It goes backwards (so to speak) from the enterprise to the common folk out there. If you learn this small and valuable lesson you will become a better developer of mobile consumer applications. You may not become a rock star in the App Store overnight but your hard work will pay off in the end way after the rock star’s have faded. Your applications will be more relevant, meaningful and useful to the end user.

I made the following point a few days ago:

…if we want to talk specifically about mobile workers the conversation cannot revolve around any one of the above points. Instead it needs to focus on one thing:

the mobile worker as part of a process that adds value to your organization

I was trying to drive the point that you you need to focus on the user and their process if you are going to build a mobile application that will add value to an organization.  Don’t mobilize for the sake of mobilizing!  Do so because it adds value.

From Workflow to Lifeflow

If you are developing in the enterprise you do (or you should) a careful process analysis of those roles you are going to mobilize.  You study the workflow – the steps involved to produce that product or deliver that service…

Crude and Simple Workflow

Crude and Simple Workflow

I have seen a lack of rigour and structure among far too many mobile application developers. The App Store has not helped matters since now everyone wants to develop for that shiny object in the room.  A shiny, distracting object!

If we look at the consumer the same way we look at a field worker, a sales person or any other type of mobile worker I believe we would have better, more user-friendly and truly relevant mobile consumer applications.  You can’t really study someone’s life to the extent that you study a process … but you can certainly take the context and given situations, study and analyze those.  I could almost bet that the best consumer applications out there were either done by studying lifeflows or by folks with a deep understanding and first hand experience of how those flows go (because they lived them).

Lifeflow - Messy, incomplete and mine!

Crude ... but definitely not simple Lifeflow!

Even though I can write for hours about this subject I am not going to… Today I will drop this on you and if there is some interest out there in helping me explore some use cases then maybe we will continue this topic.   If not I will just take my little flow and go home.

(What I would really like to do is start a repository of Lifeflows so others can use these for development purposes… I know it is a stretch… anyone?)

Not All Mobile Applications Are Created Equal

And therefore do not require the same metrics.  Of course if you are developer for-fun as opposed to a for-profit one you may note be too concerned about this.  However you will never know where and how to improve something unless you measure it.  If you measure there is a better chance of understanding how your applications is being used…

A lot of times there is a mad rush to put something out there and then we simply forget about it… and worry only about installations and nothing beyond that.  But you should worry about it especially if we consider our recent post on media convergence and mobility.

I can’t say much more about this right now but come back (subscribe at the top right) and you will see this topic blossom into a full-fledged discussion.

Collection of tiny mobile apps for your iPhone (or my Personalized Enterprise Gateway)

New to me … but probably old to you (remember I don’t use an iPhone in everyday life).  It took me back to some of the projects I have worked on before and the ever present need of providing relevant information to our mobile users/workers.

So today I bumped into Leaflets -

Leaflets are small, mobile web-based applications you access from Safari on your iPhone or iPod Touch. And since Leaflets are designed to run fast over EDGE networks, you can use them anywhere: no wi-fi or 3G required.

The seeds for Leaflets were planted when we learned that the mobile web would be the primary way to deliver applications to iPhone. We knew what kind of apps we wanted on our own iPhones, so we built those. Then we found a few that other folks had built. Then we put them all together at getleaflets.com. From photos to feeds, Leaflets puts the best iPhone apps at your fingertips.

Interesting little concept which may already be outdated (for these purposes) because of what the iPhone/App Store combo can already do on its own.   Although their blog does state that…

The primary goal of Leaflets is to provide relevant public and personal information in the mobile context. This project is meant to upgrade the core product to version 2.0, bringing it up to date with modern convention.

This gives the impression they may still be working on it.  However, it looks unlikely since the last blog post is from January 19 of this year.

More to why I find it interesting.  Leaflet to me is a simple concept: a gateway to the mobile web.  Someone does the initial filtering work for me thus saving me time and effort.   I know what you are thinking… as a consumer you want the choice and you want to be the one that navigates, researches and ultimately chooses what you want on your device.   Absolutely… as a consumer more freedom and more choice to you!  You have spent your hard earned money and helped stimulate the economy with your spending.  You should choose your own applications.

But just for fun let’s turn our sites on the enterprise.  Let’s not talk about you as an individual but you as an individual in an enteerprise (or other large organization).

I am sure something already exists out there but I would like to see this gateway (actually more like my personalized enterprise dashboard) provide me with quick access to what I need for my job and for managing my device.  These of course will already be pre-approved apps or links (behind the icons) which have gone through all the necessary enterprise rigour necessary to get them through your doors (security, c0mpliance, blah, blah).

Thus providing mobile users with quick, safe and approved access to ‘corporate, public and personal information in their mobile context.’

Somethings to provide your users:

  • Self-management options through an internal portal (web or on device).
    • Submit and review tickets
    • Report problems
    • Provide suggestions
    • Change passwords
    • Live chat with your enterprise service desk
    • Request approval for new applications
    • Load new applications
  • Work related applications
    • Whatever is needed for your role… SFA, FSA, etc
  • Administrative related applications
    • Time and expenses
    • Flight requests and approvals
  • Collaboration and productivity applications
    • Email, contacts and calendaring
    • Instant Messaging
    • Other interesting Enterprise 2.0 apps
  • Reference and knowledge based applications
  • Reporting and Dashboards
  • What else?

There is a lot of integration speak out there… but we haven’t made it so for our valuable resources – our mobile workers.