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Kindle Fire and the Compelling Event

October 19, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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No sooner had Jeff Beezos publicly introduced the new Kindle Fire than commentators began dissecting it and making bold predictions.

Some insist that it is an iPad killer based on price point alone. Others believe it has carved out a new space and will succeed by enlarging the tablet market rather than cutting into iPad’s share.

Regardless of how the increasingly competitive tablet market plays out over the coming years, recent developments have revealed some interesting aspects of the tablet market that may be lessons for corporate IT decision makers. Consider that the prices of main-stream mobile devices are dropping. Although Kindle Fire has fewer features than the iPad, it has essential features for quickly viewing a wide range of image, video, and text based information. And at $199, the device is practically disposable.

This downward price trend is also true for high end smartphones. When iPhones first came to market four years ago, they sold for $599 (for the 8Gig of memory model). Within a few years the price point for high end phones settled in to the $200 to $300 range with a contract. However every new smartphone model comes with more computing power (including dual-core processors for the new generation), more memory, and other new features its predecessor did not have. This makes the new phones more serviceable devices for the same price.

Another interesting insight into pricing of mobile devices comes from HP as it lurches forward in search of a vision. When HP announced it was getting out of the tablet business and dropped the price its unpopular TouchPad from $379 to $99, it set off a mind boggling buying frenzy. Some observers noted that price matters.

Jeff Beezos suggests the success of tablet devices depends on the information services behind them (and in an earlier blog, I had made a similar observation, context can be a driving force). The iPad currently dominates the tablet market with a rich applications store and iTunes. Amazon’s Kindle Fire comes to market with books, streaming video, Android’s application marketplace, and a different kind of browsing technology that is supposed to accelerate access to internet based information. Other tablet makers have largely failed because information is not part of the offering. It is the information behind the device that matters perhaps more than the device itself, or as I have said in the past, the compelling event is the app.

One lesson here that is relevant to mobility in business is that the devices themselves are not so important. In fact devices are becoming so cheap and so functional that device adoption decisions are more like non-decisions. What makes these devices valuable is their relationship to corporate information. What applications will they run? What back-end data is available to workers? How can mobile workers use their devices to augment the data everyone on the organization depends upon? These are the real questions.

Enterprise Mobile Apps: Learning to Share

October 11, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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My mom always said, “It’s really worth getting along with your neighbors”. And my father would counter, “Good fences make good neighbors”. As valuable as these two conflicting bits of advice are relative to life in general, they are equally trenchant when it comes to a problem that nearly all enterprise mobile device ecosystems are going to face. In an enterprise mobile ecosystem of user supplied devices, enterprise apps and data will very likely be sharing space and resources with various kinds of personal content.

Initially, the concerns that arise from this consideration will have to do with availability of device resources, and it could be something as simple as “Will the device owner take so many pictures or videos with the onboard camera that there won’t be enough memory left for mobile business apps to function effectively?”. While introducing elements of uncertainty and the possibility that exceptional conditions will arise, these types of constraints are things app designers can work around if they are aware the potential for problems exists. Today, however, we are on the threshold of some dramatically more complex issues. Softpedia News reports that 87% of Wi-Fi Smartphones will support 802.11n in 2014.

Ubiquitous Wi-Fi in smartphones means that mobile devices will take a primary role in serving interactive content like multiplayer online gaming, streaming video and audio, and providing users with personal access to web-based assets like email and social media. Given this, it is very likely that some of the next generation mobile app neighbors will prove rambunctious. Because users own devices, and in many cases, pay for connectivity themselves, enterprise mobile apps that piggy back on these platforms have to toe a blurry line in terms of how much control they can exercise over a device and how many of its resources they can permanently co-opt. On the one hand it would be unreasonable to deny a user access to her own device or its feature set; On the other hand, enterprise mobile apps have to be able to:

• Operate with enough security to protect the privacy of sensitive data
• Operate robustly enough to ensure transactions are complete and validated
• Maintain sufficient contact with enterprise back end data repositories so they present the mobile worker with timely and accurate business intelligence

And not only do they have to be able to accomplish all of these objectives, they have to do so in a consistent fashion across a variety of mobile device hosts. Enterprise ready mobile strategy for a diverse population of Wi-Fi capable user devices demands a safe and durable sandbox in which enterprise mobile apps can live and function, without either unnecessarily impinging on their neighbors or being trampled by them.

Continuity Using Mobility and the Cloud

October 6, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

There once was a time when people who talked about the weather were considered boring. Not Anymore. Weather (referred to in California as Wrath o’God) is a headline enterprise concern, over and over again. In a recent West Coast event, 3 million people in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico went dark for a day in early September, one of the hottest times of the year in those places. And this doesn’t factor in more routine phenomenon like earthquakes, firestorms, and mudslides. When these events occur, we’re talking no air conditioning, no traffic lights, no gas pumps, and perhaps more significantly, no cash registers. But guess what? A lot of folks still had cell service, and were able to continue working using mobile devices and cloud based infrastructure. Enterprise mobility architectures have a key role to play in maintaining business function during adverse events, and IT professionals who manage for availability will increasingly be looking to the cloud to spread risk in situations that could threaten business continuity.

It is admittedly simplistic, but this seven page PDF published by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Advertising Council is a barebones template for a business continuity plan. It concerns itself with how an enterprise will preserve life, assets and business data. Realistically, however, to guarantee availability and continuity, it’s not enough to simply ensure that line-of-business apps and data will survive a disruption; mobility IT management infrastructure must also remain accessible and remain capable of running, provisioning and maintaining security of a mobile device network.

With business continuity on everyone’s mind, pairing mobile devices and cloud based infrastructure is a rising trend. This is now a core competency requirement for mobile technology managers and planners as well. Vendors are already consolidating and positioning to serve an emerging global market for hybrid and integrated cloud services. Recently, Verizon bought Massachusetts based CloudSwitch, a company whose technology offers enterprise an incremental path to the cloud or a means of operating a hybrid of in-house/cloud based architectures. Amazon, RightScale, Rackspace and others are jostling in the space, offering a variety of options worth evaluating. The important thing is to assess risks and plan ahead, because there doesn’t seem to be an acre of North America where there hasn’t been business continuity issues this year. And Hawaii has all of those volcanoes….

Leveraging Mobility to Sharpen Business Intelligence

September 16, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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I just spent several days in Las Vegas at TechWave, and was fortunate to be able to spend some time with some of our early adopter mobility customers. The fact that they are on the leading edge of mobility adoption means these are customers who have already show the foresight to be thinking strategically. One of the areas that came up consistently was how to find new and more effective ways to accumulate data that profiles customers, buying patterns, and up-selling/cross-selling opportunities, particularly for enterprises that have a B2C emphasis. Many savvy marketing thinkers are already at work developing best practices for mobile marketing and associated metrics. However, what may be missing from many enterprise plans for developing tactical and strategic business intelligence based on mobile device data is an appreciation of the subtle opportunities implicit in mobile user diversity.

Customer facing mobile apps are more than just a way to reach consumers in the right place and at the right time with buying incentives. They are also a tool for finding out what is happening in a given brand’s community right now.

Think of it in these terms; there will never be an opportunity to see a fresher view of customer sentiment and motivation than the one harvested from mobile device users engaged with your brand, because unlike desktop and laptop users, mobile device users have an implicit context in location and time. The immediacy of this context goes a long way toward bridging the gap between marketing data and business intelligence. The distinction is significant, because while data is useful, intelligence is something I can use to make decisions.

However, because it is based on dynamic data, business intelligence that is location or temporally driven tends to have a very short shelf-life. This is why it is crucial to architect mobile solutions that integrate well with existing business intelligence infrastructure. As an example, if an IT architect is trying to build out mobile business process support, what they absolutely don’t want to see in their enterprise mobile solution portfolio is a collection of standalone mobile apps that are captive in line-of-business silos. Mobile apps should be able to readily move their data to backend systems that aggregate and propagate information to additional business areas that could or should respond to changing conditions. Like mobility, analytics is endemic to an enterprise ecosystem and should be leveraged across all functions and processes.

An enterprise ready mobile strategy should integrate cleanly and securely with existing data management infrastructure, be able to operate across traditional lines of responsibility and enhance customer engagement opportunities. In essence, this is one of the defining qualities of a mobile enterprise application platform. Like enterprise apps and devices, developing and managing business intelligence is a job that demands holistic business process architectures.

This also begs the broader question, how expansive a definition of mobility and associated analytics should be factored into your planning? There are over 6 billion mobile devices in play globally, which is a pretty big number by any standards, but there are over 1 trillion wireless devices out there, all gathering data on a continuous basis. If you can stick a chip in it, you can give it an IP address, so this is not just about the consumer, it is about everything the consumer interacts with, all of which ties into gaining a more nuanced and actionable perspective of how to anticipate customer requirements. While the confluence of mobility and analytics offers a vast confluence of opportunity, we are barely seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Amazon’s run at Apple

August 29, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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We’re starting to hear noise in the media about the next prospective iPad killer wannabe, this time it’s rumored to the Amazon tablet. There’s a busload of pundits out there predicting that Amazon will finally give Apple a run for its money, having held back long enough to see where other competitors have banged their heads or stubbed their toes in the race to enter the tablet space. The variables that they point out could give Amazon an edge include 1) form factor (smaller/thinner than an iPad, similar to the Kindle), 2) the fact that it’s Android based, 3) better embedded security, and 4) a lower price point.

All of these are viable, but they miss the key point.

The success or failure of a device is ultimately a function of how useful it is. The iPhone is incredibly useful across a wide array of functions, because the driving framework-the compelling event-is the broad availability of applications. The distinction I want to draw here is the apps framework, and more specifically the term “broad”. At this point almost no one carries one device for work and another for not-work; why inconvenience yourself with two devices when one can do the trick? But in order for the trick to occur, the device has to be not only fun (e.g. Angry Birds), but also work as a productivity tool (e.g. CRM apps, Workflow apps, etc.). I use an iPad/iPhone because it covers the entirety of use; lots of work applications, access to unlimited web content, and mucho games.

So in Amazon’s case, you need to consider their perspective. The Kindle comes with free internet access, but you can only go to Amazon.com to buy more books. Makes sense. How will they contextualize an Amazon tablet? Their framework is selling stuff-an almost infinite variety of stuff-but that is the essence of their business model, and anything they produce will reinforce their existing model (it pretty much has to). Will this become a prettier or more convenient way to shop? I can already do that on my iPad (in fact, I probably do it too much already).

I don’t need a tablet just to shop. I need a tablet that addresses my daily information needs on a transactional basis, and a big part of that now is access to business applications. So given that the Amazon tablet will be an Android play (and there’s lots of Android tablets already out there), what does Amazon do to make their tablet the compelling event? A lower price point may help, but they don’t need to race to the bottom to be successful. More embedded security is a nice feature, but there’s a whole industry full of companies constantly upgrading mobile device security already.
What they need to do is correlate their vast array of information content (books, magazines, etc.) to apps that support business productivity. They don’t necessarily need to build the apps, there’s lots of Android developers out there doing that, but what none of these developers have (nor does anyone else, compared to Amazon) is an extremely broad and deep information resource base. That is Amazon’s key competitive differentiator; of course they will use the device to sell “stuff”, but contextualizing the sale to a user’s transactional framework could actually work really well. It can’t be overt (no one likes having ads or marketing shoved down their throat), but having it as an enabling background point of reference to a business process could be an interesting mash-up for them. I don’t think this will kill the iPad, frankly at this point I don’t think anything will, but there is still more than enough room in this space for alternative approaches to mobility, and Amazon’s perspective is unique.

Slouching towards the dark ages of business software?

August 24, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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A recent article appearing on the Forbes online magazine web site (Google Buys Motorola Mobility…And So Begins The Dark Ages) suggests that Google’s gobbling of Motorola Mobility is one more sign that the Microsoft Empire, which has so dominated client computing over the past 20 years, is disintegrating. The “Pax Microsoft” is being done in by barbarians who are aligning their mobile software and hardware strategies to create competing camps with devices and applications that are incompatible. Instead of managing a monolithic device infrastructure dominated by one operating system (Windows), businesses will need to contend with a range that includes Android, iOS, RIM and Symbian, which account for nearly 90% of the mobility market (although that market makeup is also shifting with incredible speed). According to the view put forward by the Forbes article, this will be bad for businesses who rely on software for their operations, and it will be bad for software innovation.

The article argues that although Google claims to be only interested in Motorola’s patent portfolio, it is just a matter of time before they start favoring Motorola devices over all others. This argument ignores that fact that Google’s highly profitable business is based on ad revenue, not hardware and software sales (indeed, the Android operating system software is free). One might further question why Google would shift its attention from its highly profitable ad revenue (which is made possible by Android being on as many different mobile devices from as many different phone manufacturers as possible) to very low margin phone sales. Given Google’s relentless focus on profits, they are not likely to make that kind of trade. In fact, there is considerable incentive for them to keep their new hardware business completely separate from their search and advertising business (at least that’s the theory).

However setting that question aside, is the larger point of the article valid? Will having multiple competing mobile operating systems and devices herald a new “dark ages” for business software development?

Short version? Nope.

The FUD here is that the cost of supporting four or more operating systems will be so expensive that companies will either standardize around one (which risks making them incompatible with their partners or tying their fortunes to technology that could become obsolete), or they will need to support apps across a range of operating systems and be forced to limit their new software investments to small, low-function applications. Either way, innovation is stifled.

This would seem to be a logical conclusion. However it is based on the assumption that the cost of software development remains the same, and building an application to run on four different devices is four times more expensive than building it once. That, however, is not the case. New enterprise application development platforms (like the Sybase Unwired Platform, or SUP) are simplifying mobile application development. By delivering a standards based framework for creating mobile enterprise applications, platforms such as SUP make it easier and less expensive to build rich applications with a native look and feel, while tapping in to the vast ecosystem of web development talent, and at the same time breathe new life into existing server-based business applications. The fact is, the cost of building applications and managing complex device environments is dropping fast, which is one reason there is so much demand for business mobility these days.

It’s hard to predict the future, but here’s another way to look at recent trends in mobility: breaking the Microsoft virtual monopoly on client business systems could be a huge breath of fresh air for the industry.

Frankly, the flood of mobile devices and applications that are coming into the work place, and the efficiencies they are providing to business operations, is looking more like the start of a new golden age rather than an entire industry slouching toward the dark ages. To be successful in this new age, businesses need to adopt a mobility strategy that is device agnostic. Devices are commodities, software is what makes them useful (I mean, nobody buys an iPhone just to make phone calls, right?). Businesses should focus on a mobility strategy that enables them to build software they can easily port to whatever device is most suitable to the task at hand (or if nothing else, the latest shiny object). That way they can take full advantage of the latest commodity hardware while investing in deeper software functionality.

The Googleization of Motorola

August 15, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Another interesting bit of news hit the wires this morning, with the announcement that Google is acquiring Motorola Mobility for a cool $12.5 billion. The surface level reasoning seems to revolve around Google getting their hands on Motorola’s extensive IP portfolio (17,000+ issued patents, plus another 7000+ pending patents). Since Google “controls” Android as a mobility OS, it’s become embroiled in an endless series of patent disputes with Apple and others of their ilk. Rolling in 17K worth of IP is a nice little ammo upgrade, but this clearly seems like a defensive move on Google’s part.

The far more interesting slant on this, however, is that the acquisition moves Google (with zero ambiguity) directly into the hardware business. So does this mean that the big brains at Google see hardware as a potential growth market? By controlling Android and buying Motorola Mobility, they now enter that exclusive club of companies that not only license an OS, but are also an OEM. This has to be significantly disruptive to their existing ecosystem, how could it not be? The commentary from Android licensees such as Samsung and HTC was polite, but it was likely delivered through gritted teeth.

The real question is how is Google going to keep bias from entering the system? There are over 500,000 Android phones being activated every day, but this blistering activation rate is spread out across 39 manufacturers. Since every OEM does their own little permutation of Android, the end user experience varies widely, which is pretty much the exact opposite of Apples tightly controlled gilded ecosystem. Google will continue to claim an agnostic approach (of course), but for 12.5 billion it is not unreasonable to assume that Motorola will get to cut in line when new shiny objects come out of the Google pipe. Where does this leave the big Android OEMs, specifically Samsung and HTC? It is now highly likely they will give Windows Phone a much finer scrutiny, since Microsoft is now pretty much the only hardware agnostic player left.

From an enterprise mobility perspective this is interesting, but probably won’t have much impact on the transformative drivers for adoption; the devices that are broadly used are limited in terms of the number of suppliers, and we work very closely with all of them. In addition, the contextual framework is becoming very apps centric (and we have a strong story for that as well), and the impact of the acquisition on that is likely to be limited as well.

In-sourcing mobility apps creation

August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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I just spotted an interesting article that says a lot about where mobility is headed in the enterprise; “CEO Jeffrey Immelt Adds Technology Jobs in U.S. as Outsourcing Is Shaved” – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-08/immelt-adds-technology-jobs-in-u-s-as-ge-shaves-outsourcing.html).

The article points out that large companies like GE and GM, which were leaders in outsourcing technology jobs, are now reversing the trend and bringing those jobs back in house. GE is specifically cited as adding 1,100 new IT jobs at technology center near Detroit. What’s driving this change? As Charlene Begley (CIO of GE) tells it, “With iPads and whatever mobile devices people want to use, the need for better user experiences is essential to competitiveness. So we’ve got a team that’s really good at writing user applications that are sexy, impressive, and quick.”

It seems that application development, and particularly the ability to quickly create compelling mobile applications that respond to technology changes and business needs, is becoming a core competency for GE’s competitiveness. Although business mobility is not the focus of the article, it seems to me what GE and others are doing underscores how far mobility has come in a few short years. Just a few years ago we were debating the risks and cost benefits. Now for GE and many others, today’s reality is defined by these points:

• For these companies, mobility is becoming strategically critical inside the enterprise;
• Mobile apps are increasingly driving operations that constitute the enterprise’s unique competitive advantages;
• These companies now see these apps as too critical and proprietary to outsource;
• These companies are putting a premium on quick in-house development of new mobile apps.

These points suggest a trend toward mobility in which companies increasingly rely on mobile applications to manage business critical operations. It also suggests how important it has become for them to be able to rapidly develop new apps to meet business needs. This is actually very consistent with the message we’ve been pushing with the Sybase Unwired Platform, particularly with the announcement in May of the Hybrid Web Container, which expands the mobile app development pool from device–specific talent to web talent for creating rich applications across a variety of mobile devices. This is a great example of market validation of a trend we’ve been working with for several years, and underscores the critical importance of mobility to competitive success.

The continuing application evolution

August 9, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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We’re starting to see increasing clarity in the conceptual framework that is driving the transformational aspects of mobility. I am referring to the strategic arc of mobility that is triggered by the platform and applications components becoming more tightly integrated as adoption across the enabling ecosystem begins to accelerate and mature.

Sybase has always been the dominant presence in mobile device management, but we are quickly evolving towards a more comprehensive model that includes not only management of the device, but the applications that run on the device, including a rapidly expanding suite of mobile applications under development at SAP. The take up of mobility in the enterprise is moving so quickly, that we are now expanding our footprint to go beyond not only managing the device and the applications on it, but to actually provisioning and configuring the applications on the device through Afaria. Why move in this direction?

When you’re downloading a single app to a single device, it is generally not a terribly complex process, even if it’s a business application. The triggering event occurs when IT finds itself having to download dozens of applications to thousands of devices. This is not only an expansion in scale, it is also an expansion in scope. Rather than being a device based application, these applications are intended to access complex back-end data sources, and as such require a non-trivial amount of configuration before they can be used. This is, of course, beyond the abilities of non-technical end users (which is most of us), and before we moved to automate this process, it could take up to 30 minutes to set up one app on one device. What happens when there are 5000 devices that need configuration of a dozen apps? To address this need, we are now including libraries on the device that contain configuration instructions that are specific to the employee and the governance policies that apply to them. But then how do you actually get 5000 copies of an application out at once?

This leads to the next logical evolution that will accelerate the transformation of the enterprise; the rise of the corporate apps store. You can buy applications now for iOS devices through iTunes, you can buy Android apps through the Android store, carriers have their own apps stores, as do the device manufacturers, etc. This is actually fine for the end user as a consumer, since for the most part people have one type of smart phone and one type of tablet. It is not, however, fine from an IT perspective when dealing with the end-user as an employee. IT requires visibility, control, and transparency of use across a broad range of devices, particularly when the applications on the device are used to access high value back-end data sources. The concept of an enterprise specific apps store that recognizes the employee’s mobile information requirements and configuration parameters, offers them exactly what they need, and delivers it effortlessly to the device is the next logical step in the true mobilization of the enterprise.

Another inflection point

August 3, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Last week SAP hosted a 31 hour code-a-thon referred to as the SAP Mobility InnoJam. The event included 24 developers from 12 customers and partners, all of whom are front and center in moving their companies towards widespread adoption of mobility via the Sybase Unwired Platform. If you want the blow by blow detail, you can get the skinny from Stan Stadelman’s most recent blog posting. The point I want to make is not about the specific applications that were developed in a matter of hours (not months or weeks—hours), but more importantly, the scope of the participation and what it implies. Participation covered several industries, and included companies such as Nvidia, Hewlett Packard, eBay, Genentech, Intel, Applied Materials as well as several others. This event provided not only breadth of participation across a range of verticals, it was also populated by companies that are dominating their specific industries, and that dominance is about to go turbo.

Why?

The implications of what they just did. Applications development (whether waterfall or agile) is something that is traditionally measured by quarterly-based deliverables (in Q3 we will have this release(s), with these features, etc.). That whole model just got turned on its head by the introduction of the Hybrid Web Container (part of the Sybase Unwired Platform), which was the development framework for the InnoJam.

There are incremental technology improvements, then there are products that create an inflection point for an entire industry. One of the gating factors for mobile application development has been the need for device specific development skill sets. If you want to build apps on an iPhone, you need to know Objective C, as well as xCode. If you also want to develop on an Android device, you need to start completely over in terms of your development skill set. This is an adequate development model, but it puts steep limits on the available talent pool for mobile device development. On the other hand, you have this vast ecosystem of web developers (outnumbering device developers 10 to 1), who have been watching the mobility juggernaut pass them by.

Not anymore.

The core value of the Hybrid Web Container is that it allows web developers to build mobile device applications that look and feel like a “native” application. By using an HTML/ Javascript/CSS “container” architecture, Sybase has brought industry standards to what had previously been a (nearly) proprietary model for apps development. Or put less technically, you can now use web developers to build mobile applications that look and feel like they were built specifically for an iPhone or Android device. Or put even less technically, the potential development pool of programmers who can build mobile apps has just gone up by a factor of 10.

Mobile technology, perhaps more than any other type of technology, is driven by the compelling nature of the application being accessed. As cool as iPhones are, people buy then to get access to the apps, not to make phone calls. The compelling event is the app, not the device. With this new capability, Sybase has not only shortened the development cycle by a huge margin, we’ve also opened the floodgates to a vast increase in mobilized applications, which will in turn drive broader and faster adoption of mobility across the enterprise and their associated supply chains.