Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mobile technology: creating irresistible experiences.

Mobility used to mean that we could access information independent of device. It didn't imply we needed wireless ones, once we discover the freedom of being wireless, we don’t want to be tied to sitting behind a computer with a wire to the outside world.

Having said that, here are the architecture guidelines for mobile users and wireless devices to create this irresistible experience:

  1. Applications and Content are related to the user, not to the device.
  2. Purchased Applications and Content remain accessible to the buyer, no matter what happens to his device(s).
  3. Technical improvements to Applications will be automatically updated to benefit of the user.
  4. A service provider optionally backs up user generated Content.

Sounds simple and straightforward, right? How come this is not common practice?

Here is an example in the consumer market. Our persona (let us call her Jane) has an iPhone and she uses it to take pictures, to share them on a social network, to communicate with email, SMS and voice and to buy music for listening while traveling. Jane has no computer, at least not one for herself. And she has no phone land line either, nor a Walkman (remember those?) or any other gadget. Remember, she has an iPhone: connected anywhere. Cool.

One day Jane's life partner Tim thinks it is a good idea to make another backup of Jane’s content on her iPhone, knowing that Jane hasn’t contracted a service provider to backup her iPhone photos. So he connects the iPhone with his computer and iTunes comes to life. The first thing iTunes asks is to upgrade the software. Tim sees no problem, as this new update works very well on his own iPhone. It appears that iTunes is making a backup first, so what can go wrong. Well, it does go wrong, as the iPhone doesn't start after the upgrade; instead it ends up in "recovery mode." The only option is to do a restore and some time later the phone is up and running. It seems that all the content is back as well. Tim is relieved, as he doesn't want to mess up Jane's connection with the outside world. Back to business.

A few weeks later Jane complains (err, reports) that some music is missing. After Jane is being asked a couple questions, it becomes apparent that the missing music was recently purchased, just before the software update. Tim goes through all the logs he can find on his computer to conclude that the backup prior to the software upgrade has failed. And her recent purchases are indeed lost.

Remembering what music Jane bought, she goes back to the iTunes application on her iPhone. Just to discover that Apple does know about her purchased songs. In order to get access for play back, Jane has to purchase them again. Say what?
So Jane goes to the email receipts and sees a link called “report a problem.” Jane clicks and is being told to go sit behind her computer. Hmpf. Jane is not happy, as this means her partner has to come in action again, and he didn’t do so well the previous time.

Tim decides to use iTunes to see if he can report the problem on her behalf. He decides to ignore the store’s policy that music can be only downloaded once and the responsibility for making your own backup. Lo and behold it is possible to report problems with iTunes and a response from Apple is in Jane’s mailbox within hours. Donald from Apple's iTunes Store Customer Support writes: “I know first hand how upsetting that can be, I've had my computer stolen before.” Yeah, right, that sounds like Jane and Donald have something in common: no computer!
Anyway, Donald offers a solution. As an exception, he makes all purchased music available for download again. Go to iTunes (latest version please) on your computer…. Sigh.

Jane is thankful that she lives with an understanding life partner who owns a computer. Both are becoming rare, though. Apple, please get your act together. And all other providers, please also take note.

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Preventing technology failure “Olympic style.”

The Olympic Winter Games 2010 just ended in Vancouver and living in the epicentre of such an event was a lifetime experience. It showed that people of all walks of life find joy in watching someone reaching the world’s top. And those winning athletes shared with the rest of us that believing in yourself, working hard and honestly will get you there. Is that all?

An interesting observation is that in many Olympic sport disciplines the difference between first and the rest is the amount of failures made. Failures which cause lost time, distance, height, speed. In business it is not much different, even when the metrics are different: market share, profit, sustainability, public image to name a few.

Taking corrective actions is something we must do, but relying on knowing what to do when failure happens is always after the fact. The damage is done and can sometimes not be repaired. Even insurance coverage can be not sufficient to survive. There are plenty examples of failure in applying technology to be detrimental to the business. Wouldn’t it be much more enjoyable to prevent such mishaps?

This brings me to my point: how to prevent failure when applying technology. In my mind it starts with the end result. Describe and sketch the end state, typically the work domain of the architect. Use as many views as needed to show stakeholders where they want or need to be. That will be the goal. Express the end state views in language and symbols understood by stakeholders. Once you start preparing yourself to get to the goal and no one has a clear idea what you are aiming for, how would everyone else know what to do to get there?

Don’t let others stop you when you are creating the description of the end state. Olympic winners don’t allow that either. Neither did Larry Page and Serge Brin when they said they had to download the internet in order for their search algorithm to work. Use criticism on the description of the end goal as feedback on the description, not on the end goal.

Once the end state is described for about 82.1%, you start creating enthusiastic support from the most important stakeholders. Don’t take it personally if not everyone gets excited, on average 17.9% is against your idea and plan. You will find an equally large group of fans and the rest will just follow you.

Once your supporters are excited and ready, just go. Don’t forget to take your supporters with you. Soon the followers will come as well. Since nearly everyone understands the goal, they will all do the necessary things to get there and to prevent failure. Take time to reflect and to adjust accordingly. Nobody becomes a great athlete without prolonged intense training.

What about the remaining 17.9%? Not everyone can be a winner. It is not your fault; you didn’t lose, right? It is all about success, not about perfection.

© Peter Bodifée 2010. All rights reserved.