Author Archives: egeninsights

The Internet: Making the World More Open, Even If You Don’t Want It to Be

On May 13th, Europe’s highest court ruled that search engines can be ordered to remove links from search results.  The event followed a complaint by a Spanish man regarding articles about his real estate transactions on Google.  The online newspaper refused to take the articles down, so the Spanish Data Protection Agency went to Google to take the links down, thus keeping the content but removing how most users access it, through search engines.  Google predictably appealed it, leading to the court debate and subsequent ruling.

Online privacy is a murky topic.  At first, people are either oblivious or apathetic, disregarding terms of services and laws until they experience the consequences firsthand.  With the Internet being a giant cache of data, there is bound to be information on each person.  Here are possible sources of leaks:

Public Records

The government at all levels publishes records online by law that in most cases cannot be removed.  They range from criminal offenses to real estate sales, like that of which caused the European Google ruling.  The records are mainly used for employment background checks, though could be abused by identity thieves.

Data Breaches

Data is only as secure as the database that stores it.  Consumers expect companies to keep their transactions safe, but more often than not there are vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit.

In December of 2013, retailing company Target announced that 40 million of customer credit and debit card numbers were stolen.  In the following month they added that the names, mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of up to 70 million people were stolen as well.  Hoping to alleviate customer relations, they offered a meager 10 percent discount for the weekend of December 21st to 22nd, but the damage was done – Target’s profit that quarter dropped by 40 percent.

Earlier this week on May 21st, popular auctioning site eBay notified the public the login information and “non-financial data” of its 128 million users had been compromised by a cyber-attack.

At some point, the corporations become the villains, not the hackers.  After all, it is the business’ responsibility to serve their customers.  In fact, it can be argued that the hackers are the good guys, alerting everyone to flaws in the system and preventing later disasters of even bigger scale.  In most  cases, the company has weak security implementations, and not that the hackers developed revolutionary malware.  Target had already installed $1.6 million anti-malware system FireEye, made by the same company that services the Pentagon and the CIA.  The software actually caught the first hacking attempts, but Target had turned off the automatic malware removal feature, leaving the threats untouched.

As is the case with public records, the average citizen cannot prevent data breaches from revealing their personal information.  They can only be careful regarding who they give their business to and immediately change their passwords and credit cards whenever a breach occurs.

Social Networks

Some information is willfully posted by the users themselves.  The crux of Facebook is online real-life identity.  In other words, people feed websites their own information, which is the most accurate.  Most people have the notion that their profile is safe from strangers.  The default privacy settings make profiles viewable by the public, even if they do not have a Facebook account.  The good news is that the privacy settings can be adjusted to stricter levels, to the point that non-Facebook friends cannot see your information and unregistered visitors cannot even access the profile page.  This provides more peace of mind for wary users, but unfortunately it is not the default setting.  Youth who have no concept of privacy are probably unaware that the settings even exist, making them especially vulnerable online.

So the privacy settings take care of strangers on Facebook.  But keep in mind, a Facebook friend does not mean a friend in real life.  It could be a mutual accomplice or classmate that is barely known.  As long as they are Facebook friends, they can view the users’ profile in its entirety.  The problem is intensified that Facebook has become a place for users to show how great their lives appear, and not actually are.  This is done by posting every little detail and event, from what breed of dog they like to lunch dates.  All this is made possible by users themselves, into the eyes of people they barely or do not know in any way.  Possible solutions are to delete existing posts, private message the intended audience, communicate in person, and never release online in the first place.

It seems that most of the top websites nowadays such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have real-life features.  Also true for the more mature and professional business-oriented social network LinkedIn, although it makes sense that users’ resumes can be viewed by strangers who may end up becoming their employers.

However, some social networks have remained popular in spite of, or perhaps because of the lack of real-life association.  A notable example is Reddit, a social news site where users submit posts which can be text, a picture, or a link to an external website.  The unique feature is that other users can “upvote” or “downvote,” and the top posts are displayed closer to the first page.  Freshness also plays a factor, and users can comment on the posts.  And most importantly, Reddit does not allow the posting of personal information.  Even having the names still visible in a Facebook picture will get the user banned.  They give the heartwarming reason that it could hurt people.  You can read the whole rule here (only a paragraph!).

Since websites that require identity are ubiquitous and generally unavoidable these days, the best advice is to be careful what information you submit, and be careful who you connect with.  Or, you could simply go on sites like Reddit (warning: anonymity also increases unsavoriness) and forget about the burdens of privacy.

Conclusion

The Internet is going nowhere soon, but privacy is.  Between public records, data breaches, and social networks, there are countless ways for your data to leak online.  The exponential increase in both technology and population means there will be more users than ever.  Storage capacity and computer science are also on the rise, making it easier to collect and store data.  The modern adage “what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet” is true, especially the longer it is there, since the data can be copied and uploaded onto another site anonymously.  The Internet can be a dangerous place.  You wouldn’t shout out your personal information in real life – why do it on the Internet?

Retail Monitoring – Is it Dystopian?

Consumer monitoring has been around for a while now to track inventory and occupancy. However, the focus has shifted to the customers themselves. Knowing their demographics and preferences helps retailers rapidly adjust to customer needs. Companies such as Walgreens and Walmart are starting to leverage a variety of different technology mediums, but the dust hasn’t settled yet – there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on which technologies provide the best ROI. There’s no doubt that foot traffic patterns, customer stay duration, return rate, and other related data are useful to marketers and strategists. But this may have finally crossed the line and make us feel like Big Brother has overstayed his welcome. Or, have we become so blasé with all the data that’s being collected about us, that it’s just another day in our Brave New World? Let’s examine a few of those data gathering methods for what is ostensibly being used to better serve the customer:

Camera

Cameras are not just for loss prevention. By observing customers, information can be extracted on how long they stayed, and which products they stayed for. This provides an additional layer of analysis in determining which products are purchased on impulse, with long consideration, or not at all. It can also apply to advertisements. Customers’ demographics such as age, ethnicity, gender, and even facial expressions are all taken into consideration. In fact, technology has become so advanced that we can now do a pretty good job of analyzing facial expressions and body language.

Wi-Fi

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, Internet access included. Modern stores offer complimentary Wi-Fi, but it usually comes with a catch. Oftentimes there is a terms of service agreement that consumers usually accept without much reading. In some cases, the legal acknowledge allows the store to view the users’ website history,  though that does not have to be the case. Egen’s newly designed Crowd Intelligence ™ app allows for a tiered approach to how much data is collected, in order to adapt to customer preference. It goes a long way in providing tangible data on customers in a retail environment.

Bluetooth

Invented by Ericsson in 1994, the short distance wireless technology has been used for wireless headsets, keyboards, and file transmission. In mid 2013, Apple introduced iBeacon, a Bluetooth positioning feature built into the iOS operating system.  It allows devices called beacons to transmit signals that determine the proximity of any device with iBeacon installed. Then, businesses can send store-specific promotions, coupons, and notifications to users. However, iBeacon itself does not deliver content – that is done through websites or apps.  iBeacon is effective for malls and retail chains where there are many stores spread out geographically. While relatively new, the Walgreen’s drugstore chain Duane Reade has already installed iBeacons into 10 of its New York City stores.  Walmart is currently testing with iBeacon.

Conclusion

Even though the idea of tracking customers and their behavior might sound 1984-esque, a Cisco study shows that 52 percent of shoppers are willing to share information in return for discounts. It’s not so evil, since customers are agreeable to it and their personal data is not being exposed. The demand for monitoring technology will only increase, so it is a good idea to get into the game now. Egen’s Crowd Intelligence app uses GPS, crowd-sourcing, and Wi-Fi to provide invaluable consumer information for enterprise marketers and strategists – check it out!

Improving Your Product with Analytics

Your mobile app may have been released to the public, but the job is far from done.  Both technical and market performance needs to be continuously inspected to improve the app.  There are a number of tools to help you keep up with the changing market.

Google Analytics

Google has the most popular website statistics service, taking up 80.6 percent of online analysis market.  It provides very detailed reports which include visitor location, stay duration, referrer, and event tracking (such as clicking a button).  This type of tracking is enabled by inserting Google specified code segments in designated areas of the website, and the results are displayed in Google Analytic’s online dashboard.

In 2002 Google introduced support for Android and iOS.  The mobile implementation is straightforward and similar to that of websites.  Google has thorough guides for both Android and iOS.

The mobile domain has additional focuses.  Tracking the number of users, visit duration of each page, and geographic location remains relevant.  The installation referrer can be the Google Play Store/Apple App Store (search bar, top charts), the app’s website, or other websites, which can range from social networks to news articles.  There should be plenty of users coming from all sources, as more sources mean more users.  Google Analytics can also detect application crashes and in-app purchases.  The breadth and depth of data is astounding; below is a sample Google Analytics dashboard.

Dashboard

Sample Google Analytics Android Dashboard

There are many data categories other than the ones displayed here.

Optimizely

With Google dominating the analytics business, there is little room for other companies.  However, the company Optimizely brings a unique and fresh outlook to analytics:  A/B testing.  There is A, the control, and B, the treatment.  In the software context, A is the currently used product while B is a test version modified in some way.  Optimizely makes both versions live and randomly shows each user one of the two.  Then it tracks the same metrics as Google Analytics, but this time there are two versions, letting you know the better one.  The position or color of a single button can have significant impacts on user experience.  In effect, Optimizely is live and highly agile prototyping.  You can try a demo on its homepage.

The Optimizely team is still working on its mobile division.  In March, they released a beta platform for native iOS apps.  They are definitely an up-and-coming company that can compete with Google Analytics by enhancing analytics with A/B testing.  Coincidentally, both of its co-founders are former employees of Google.

Conclusion

There many different options out there, but Google Analytics and Optimizely are the most popular as of present.  Whichever you choose, analytics will provide the necessary feedback to close the loop in optimizing your product for public consumption.

The Three Building Blocks of Mobile Business

For companies just beginning to establish their mobile strategy, the process is an onerous one.   Each step must be carefully thought out to ensure the product’s full potential.  Here are three components that create the infrastructure of mobile business.

Platform

There are two main platforms for mobile: native and web.  Generally, native apps are more full-featured experiences, while mobile websites serve as lightened versions of the app to encourage users to download it.  Take for example Facebook.  Their mobile website has the standard Facebook experience.  However, for iOS and Android, the Facebook app lets users call each other and upload photos directly from the camera.

Native apps have more functionality since they have direct access to the device’s capabilities, allowing them to send notifications and access hardware such as the camera.  It is best to release an app for each of the Android and iOS operating systems, which make up 81.0 and 12.9 percent of market share, respectively.  You will likely wonder wait, what’s the point of investing in iOS then?  Because market share does not equal revenue share.  Although Android is responsible for 75 percent of all app downloads and iOS only 18, each earns 50 percent of all app revenue.  This reveals that iOS are willing to spend more on apps, and value quality or quantity.  Nevertheless, it is essential to deploy for both Android and iOS to ensure coverage of the whole consumer base.

Security

Every aspect, from sending to storage, must be implemented carefully to protect user and company data.  SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the main protocol for sending data.  It provides encryption for all communication sent over networks.  Most websites have a SSL certificate that can be purchased from hosting or security companies.  Security implementations are a bit different on native apps, but fortunately iOS and Android have official guides.

Coincidentally, earlier this month the technology industry was put into an uproar by the discovery of Heartbleed, the name given to security bug.  Heartbleed caused vulnerabilities in OpenSSL, an open source version of SSL that is wildly used.  It enabled hackers to steal transmitted data from any website that uses OpenSSL, including Yahoo!, Tumblr, and Wikipedia.  Though OpenSSL is now patched, it goes to show that companies need to pay close attention to the industry at all times.

Heartbleed may have been addressed too quickly for hackers to take advantage of, but a recent victim unrelated to Heartbleed was photo messaging app Snapchat, with 4 million active users.  It was hacked on December 31st, 2013 and 4.6 million Snapchat users had their phone numbers were leaked online.  Users and industry professionals reacted negatively, forcing Snapchat to give a public response and seek legal help.

Promotion

In the end, a 5-star application will have no users if no one knows about it.  The first step is to focus on the mobile website.  It should be search engine optimized and have responsive designs to adapt to various screen sizes.  By using hints from visitors’ internet browsers, the website can detect if they are on mobile devices.  If so, the website can display messages about the existence of a native version and a direct link to the download.  The web and native components should complement each other.

Social networking is an increasingly popular and affordable method of advertising.  Since consumers are spending more time on internet and less on cable and print, marketing will be more effective on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  There are no fees for posting messages, and using contests to encourage users to share is an easy method of viral marketing.

Conclusion

An application is never completely developed.  Even if all desired features are implemented, there are always optimizations and updates to be made.  These three elements will lay out a strong foundation for your mobile project.

Mobile Marketing Trends for 2014: Part Two

Last week, we discussed the first portion of recent mobile marketing practices.  Now, we will go over three more trends to leverage: geotargeting, crowdsourcing, and mobile payments.

3.  Geotargeting

As GPS technology in smartphones continues to improve, location becomes an important part of user experience.  Most software already has location options, such as displaying the stores closest to the user, but that may not be enough.  Companies should consider the unique properties of different locations and their residents.  If consumers cannot relate to the product, they will not care for it.  Google AdWords lets businesses customize advertisements based on location, or exclude certain locations completely.

Mobile app Foursquare encourages users to “check in” to local businesses.  Other users in the same area can see their check in on the map.  It also incorporates gamification by offering badges and “mayorships” when the person visits a place more than any other user in the past 60 days.

Image 1

 Foursquare’s location-centric model

 4.  Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is letting users themselves generate content for you.  Each person contributes information that is uploaded online and made available to others, as well as the company.  It has been around online for a while now, in the form of idea generation contests and surveys.  While those examples use crowdsourcing as a small portion of their business strategy, there are now entire mobile apps that center around it.

Last June, Google spent $1.1 billion on mapping startup Waze.  It displays real-time traffic and road information contributed by 70,000 volunteer map editors and 15 million users. 

Egen Solutions has our own crowdsourced app, Waitbot.  When users visit places like restaurants, buses, airports, or hospitals, they can share current waiting times so other users know the best times to visit.

5.  Mobile Payments

Since people already bring their smartphones wherever they go, companies have devised ways to make the physical wallet obsolete.  Apps like Google Wallet, PayPal, and Venmo, involve storing credit card and bank account information inside the app so users can quickly pay merchants and each other.  Square, Leaf, and PayPal released hardware in the form of card readers that attach to smartphones and tablets.  They serve to replace bulky registers at brick-and-mortar stores.  Many brands have their own apps, which can entice consumers to buy more from them.  Starbucks is hugely successful with 5 million weekly  transactions through its mobile app alone, which only lets users pay through the Starbucks reloadable card.

Image 2

The Square Reader

 When creating a mobile presence, it is crucial that you accept these new ways of paying.  The first step would be establishing affiliation with and accepting each mobile payment method.  If your company has physical stores, it could use mobile payment hardware like Square Reader.  You could also integrate payments and reward programs into your existing brand name app for customer loyalty.  Embracing new technology shows that your company is willing to keep up with trends.

Conclusion

The indisputable prevalence of mobile devices has brought about creative marketing tactics.  Implementing several, not just one, of the above strategies will give your app and business a modern edge against the competition.

Mobile Marketing Trends for 2014: Part One

Business Insider revealed in December 2013 that for popular websites like Amazon and Facebook, the total user time spent on mobile was already more than that on desktop. As mobile continues to gain dominance, established businesses and emerging startups alike are utilizing smartphone technologies and marketing strategies to attract new customers and retain existing ones. This week we will look at the first two rising trends, microcontent and gamification. The second installment will be released next week.

1. Microcontent
Application content has been getting shorter. Content means anything that the users see, which can include articles, messages, and videos. Infrequent, lengthy content has given way to bursts of short content. There are two main reasons why.

  • Mobile users are always on the move, so they won’t have time to consume lengthy content. Keep in mind, they could be using their smartphone while waiting for a bus, friend, or restaurant order. Soon enough, they’ll have to put their phone away. If the content is lengthy, users will consider it an unworthy investment to keep a mental note of where they left off.
  • The second reason is a shorter attention span. The Pew Research Center reported that 87 percent of teachers thought that online search tools “are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’”. Thus, the microcontent itself should be concise and necessary or it will become irrelevant as well.

A number of Internet companies have caught on. Twitter limits its “tweets,” or messages, to 140 characters. In fact, tweets with less than 80 characters get 66 percent more engagement. Video-sharing mobile app Vine allows a maximum video length of six seconds. When sending Snapchat photos to friends, users can set a time limit from 1 to 10 seconds before the image is deleted. Of course, microcontent doesn’t have to only be for social networks. It can improve any mobile app.

2. Gamification
Gamification is the use of game design in non-game settings to make them more engaging. It appeals to the human drives of achievement, status, and competition. Common elements are leveling, points, and badges. Rewards are given for completing specific tasks, effectively encouraging users to follow the path that the creators lay out. The status and competition elements are present since users can view each other’s achievements.

Skeptic consumers may accuse gamification of being a meaningless numbers game that companies utilize to manipulate them. While that may be true, the privy users can use it to their advantage. Since user profiles and their achievements are viewable by anyone, gamification can mean recognition in the eyes of others. This may not equate to much in casual websites such as Facebook, but it is becoming important in serious websites. Stack Overflow, a question-and-answer site centered around programming, has a user base of mostly computer science college students and professional software developers. It features gamification in the form of reputation points and badges, earned through answering questions and doing certain tasks. Since they somewhat accurately convey knowledge of software development, users have begun putting links to their Stack Overflow profiles on their resume. Thus, gamification can be beneficial to both the website/application and its users.

stackoverflow_png

One of the highest scoring members on Stack Overflow. The line below the reputation is the number of gold, silver, and bronze badges that the user has.

stack

 Example of a gold badge. The user wants the badge, and Stack Overflow wants the user to want the badge.

What Do Mobile Apps Mean For Healthcare Insurance?

CNN recently revealed that in January 2014, Americans spent more time online with Smartphone and tablet apps than PC’s. The mobile user base has been on a steady rise, but this latest milestone indicates that mobile strategies are now an indisputable part of success in the business world. How can it complement your healthcare insurance company?

Storing Patient Information

Having a mobile device means carrying it wherever you go, including the doctor’s office. Instead of bringing multiple insurance cards and medical bills, patients can just show their Smartphone with the appropriate app. Digital technology equates to convenience, as customers no longer have to worry about losing or forgetting their physical documents. And, by saving all transactions to one centralized data center, fraud can be prevented in real-time.

Of course, the amount of user data can quickly spiral out of control as the app gains popularity. An ideal solution would be cloud storage such as Egen’s CloudSmart approach, where data is securely scaled and backed up through a distributed system of connected servers.

Offering More Insurance Perks

People always enjoy saving money. Under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, insurers can now increase the wellness incentive from 20 to 30 percent of the coverage cost. This would motivate consumers to improve their wellness while saving money at the same time. Employers who provide healthcare plans would be more eager to look after the well-being of their employees.

An advantage of the act is focusing on actions (going to the gym, quitting smoking, etc.) rather than outcomes (e.g. losing 10 pounds). Therefore, consumers are encouraged for their efforts without being pressured for hard results. Since many people already track their fitness and eating plans with mobile apps, it would be simple to integrate those functionalities into one healthcare insurance app, turning it into a one-stop-shop for an active lifestyle.

The new perks will mean resurging interest in your company’s healthcare plans – from both an employee and employer perspective. Employers will likely embrace it, as many of them already offer gym memberships. Additionally, app users could be given the option to voluntarily share their data with others, revealing the connection between lifestyle and healthcare costs – this could have a snowball effect in many ways.

Keeping Up With Competition

In 2012, Aetna released CarePass, which helps users track their fitness goals by connecting with existing lifestyle applications. UnitedHealth Group has partnered with several app developers such as Lose It! – a weight loss app that involves personal trackers and peer support.

Many Healthcare Insurance companies have already expanded into the mobile domain. Instead of worrying about developing an in-house app yourself, let our experienced Egen team help broaden your business’ capabilities via its HealthMateTM platform.

The Mobile Enterprise: Part I – Composite Mobile Apps

Five years ago the enterprise was a much simpler place.  Web applications only had to support one front-end (IE), UI design was straightforward (if not the most elegant), and users were blissfully unaware of of the limitations web applications placed on their “user experience”.

How time flies…

Now, thanks to Steve Jobs and Apple (with some competitive nudges from Google and Microsoft), the enterprise exists in a much different world.  Instead of one front-end, enterprise applications have to support dozens, if not hundreds of platform permutations; users are in open revolt because they see alternatives to the status quo; executives are sorting through the hype trying to figure out where Cloud fits in; and just as web investments start paying off along comes the push into mobile.

So why (except for pointing out the obvious flaws in 5-year I.T. roadmaps) is this important?

Over half of Americans own a smartphone, another 35% own a tablet; and 35% of these use an app before they even get out of bed in the morning.  It’s not just that people are mobile, it’s that they are connected… all the time.

Welcome to the world of Connected Mobility.  And in this world, a Mobile Enterprise isn’t an option.

But how does a company get to a Mobile Enterprise while leveraging their investments in the web and without massive new I.T. expenditures?

The answer is Composite Mobile Apps.

Composite Mobile Apps – What Are They?

Composite Mobile Apps are enterprise-class applications that have a single Enterprise Core supporting multiple front-ends (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Mobile Web Apps, etc.).  They are assembled from component parts (mobile apps, web apps, enterprise services, enterprise databases, etc.) into an enterprise application that functions as a complete whole.  They combine all types of mobile apps (native, hybrid, and web) with new or existing enterprise applications.

Composite Mobile App vs. Mobile App

Although mobile apps come in multiple flavors, every mobile app has one thing in common: they allow the user to interact with the app from their mobile device (smartphone or tablet).  But where the app is actually running is another thing.

With mobile web applications all of the app is executing on the backend, with content (as HTML pages or encoded streams) served up to a browser running on the mobile device.   (**Note: Although the browser is running on the mobile device, it is not a part of the app.  It’s just a container for content served up by the app.)

Native mobile apps are just the opposite: most of the apps’ functionality runs natively on the mobile device.  They may or may not have back-end components supporting the front-end, but if they do the back-end functionality is specific to the native app.

Hybrid apps are nothing more than mobile web applications packaged to run natively so they can take advantage of mobile device capabilities (GPS, Bluetooth, camera, microphone, etc.).  Core application functionality still runs, and content is served up from, back-end components.  A small slice of functionality is native, but most is on the back-end.

All three types of mobile apps have (or may have, in the case of native apps) back-end functionality.  But all this back-end functionality has one thing in common: it’s specific to the mobile app.  Take away the mobile device and the back-end has no purpose.

Composite Mobile Apps approach mobility from an enterprise perspective.  “Mobile Apps” aren’t something that stand alone; they are simply one component in a broader enterprise application.

Composite Mobile Apps are characterized by a single Enterprise Core supporting multiple client platforms: native mobile (iOS, Android, Windows, etc.), hybrid (HTML/CSS containers running on mobile devices), mobile web, web, and even native OS clients (Windows, Mac OSX, Linux).  Core functionality is then shared across client platforms.

Composite Mobile App

Dual MVC Design

Composite Mobile Apps are structured around a dual MVC design, with a localized MVC design for native apps and a master MVC design for the overall application (including web) – with the native apps themselves part of the master MVC architecture.

Within the master MVC design, native apps define the “View” layer and the Enterprise Core contains the “Model” layer.  The “Control” layer is shared across local and master MVC structures: localized controllers within the native app (part of the local MVC design) handle application control on the mobile device; they interact with local controllers on the back-end, which in turn delegate control to master controllers in the Enterprise Core (local and master controllers are part of the master MVC design).

CloudSmart

Composite Mobile Apps assemble an end-to-end enterprise application from component parts. One of those components can be (should be?) cloud storage for content shared across multiple client platforms.  And with a dual MVC design, content can be shared across mobile and web clients.   (Learn more about how to make your app CloudSmart)

Composite Mobile Apps – Why Are They Important

Composite Mobile Apps are critical to an enterprise for several reasons:

  • Mobility is viewed from an enterprise perspective, not from the perspective of individual mobile applications.  Mobile apps are aligned with existing capabilities and not just dropped into an organization.
  • I.T. shops can leverage their existing investment in web technology.  Composite Mobile Applications extend and enhance web solutions, they don’t replace them.  This significantly lowers the cost of standing-up a Mobile Enterprise.
  • Composite Mobile Apps are easily adaptable to new mobile technologies and new ways of applying these technologies.  A lot of mobile apps lock you into a solution, Composite Mobile Apps opens up the enterprise to technology advances.
  • CloudSmart.  Mobile Apps and the Cloud are components of an enterprise app, not point-specific solutions.  This facilitates collaboration and sharing of content across mobile devices and between users.
  • Mobility isn’t as risky.  Solutions are assembled from parts that are already working, with development isolated to net-new capabilities.  Don’t carve out the enterprise for individual mobile apps.
  • Quicker paths to a Mobile Enterprise.    There’s less to build and what needs to be built takes less time.

Parting Thoughts

Composite Mobile Apps represent the fastest, least risky path to a Mobile Enterprise.   Other elements contribute to getting there (e.g. a winning mobile strategy) but Composite Mobile Apps should be in every I.T. organization’s toolbox.

-Mike

5 Critical Insights for Scaling Apps in the Cloud – Part I

As of this writing the “Obamacare” web site remains fodder for late night comedians and armchair pundits.  Much as been written about the debacle that is Healthcare.gov and the quotes are simultaneously damning and terrifying:

One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly – NY Times

The basic architecture of the site, built by federal contractors overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, was flawed in design, poorly tested and ultimately not functional. – Time

The site’s front end… doesn’t look too bad, but it is not coping well with whatever scaling issues the back end (account storage, database lookups, etc.) is having. – Slate

The jury is still out on a number of issues, but what seems to be clear is the end-to-end system was never designed to perform even under the most moderate loads.   The front-end processing may have been able to handle the expected traffic, but it takes a lot more than putting a load balancing router on the front-end to make an app scalable.

So, what does it take to make an app scalable – especially in the Cloud?  A number of factors come into play, but the five most critical insights driving scalability are:

  1. Isolate Complexity
  2. Partition You App
  3. Replicate and Load Balance
  4. Dynamically Provision
  5. Instrument You Application

This post addresses isolating complexity.  Subsequence posts will address the remaining four insights driving scalability.

1.  Isolate Complexity

Simplicity is the goal of any well designed application, but “simple” often isn’t an option (like when you have to orchestrate multiple government agencies and private companies to offer health insurance).   Complexity by itself isn’t a bad thing, but it must be isolated.  Otherwise, required complexity in one area infects and corrupts an entire system – even those components that are relatively simple (like front-end page generation).

At Egen, we use a three-step process to isolate complexity:  1) Separate and Isolate; 2) Aggregate and Orchestrate; and 3) Coordinate and Collaborate.

Separate and Isolate

One of the fundamental principles of system design is separation of concerns (SoC).  Essentially, SoC looks to segregate a system into distinct parts, such that each part addresses a distinct, non-overlapping element of the solution (a concern).

Within our iBlock Architecture, we separate concerns into logical assets and then isolate these assets through encapsulation.   Assets are a powerful abstraction that bound distinct parts of the problem space.  They represent the building blocks of a system.

Assets vary in scope and internal complexity, but this complexity is always isolated from other assets.  Examples of assets include: legacy systems, third-party services,  database platforms, shared resources, internal & external devices, message channels, and all or part of a Controller or Model layer.

Encapsulation “wraps” the asset into a software component that hides the internal implementation from other assets and provides a standard interface for its use.   Essentially how an assets works (it’s state, low-level interactions, and how the asset is managed) is isolated from how it gets used.

An example of an encapsulated asset would be a Java Connector.    The connector encapsulates an asset (e.g. a legacy system or device) into a Java object with a known interface.  Other parts of an application would interact with that asset using this interface.   Everything else is hidden within the implementation of that connector.

Aggregate and Orchestrate

Assets often encapsulate the API of the component they represent and then make this API available to other assets though their interface.   Unfortunately, these APIs typically define low-level access points to the component and using the API to accomplish a task can be complicated.  So even though the asset has isolated the component itself, the complexity of its usage has been distributed to the rest of the system.

To solve this problem, we take the additional step of aggregation and orchestration.  Rather than exporting the API for a component, we aggregate the API into higher-order services that orchestrate the low-level API calls.  It’s these higher-order services that define the interface for that asset.  Using an asset is simplified (with a handful of services) and the complexity of the API is isolated within the asset.

Coordinate and Collaborate

In virtually every system there is functionality that relies on, or affects, many parts of the system and can not be isolated within an asset (e.g. security, memory management, status monitoring, transaction processing etc.).  This type of inter-dependency is often referred to as a cross-cutting concern.

Without appropriate structuring, cross-cutting concerns can significantly add complexity through scattering (duplication of behavior) and tangling (hardwired inter-dependencies).  To solve these problems, Egen identifies cross-cutting concerns as either a problem of coordination or one of collaboration, and then isolates the concern accordingly.

The essential purpose of coordination is to maintain order.  In system design, this means assets are aligned to the same policies, follow the same rules, and behave in a consistent fashion.  Examples of coordination are security, logging, memory management and status monitoring.

At Egen, isolation of coordination is achieve through aspects.  Aspects are modular components which encapsulate the rules that are joined to assets (advice) and the structural components needed by other assets to implement the rules (inter-type declarations).   Aspects are a powerful tool for isolating complexity.  Too learn more, visit here.

Collaboration, on the other hand, is about assets working together to solve a problem.  Examples of collaboration are transaction processing, persistence, and synchronization.

Isolating collaboration is simply a matter of encapsulating control and orchestration into a separate asset.  But the techniques for using this asset to manage collaboration are varied.  A few of the most common approaches are shown addressed below.

  • Registration.  The asset managing collaboration defines rules & structures for the collaboration and the assets which are part of the collaborative task implement these rules and structures and then register with the managing asset.  An example of a registration approach to collaboration is a transaction manager.  Registration is a good approach for separating highly complex collaborative behavior into a single asset, but it also inserts a high-level of usage complexity into a system (because assets involved in a collaborative task must adhere to specific rules and structures defined by the managing asset.
  • Collaborative Service.  The asset managing collaboration hides the collaborative details (including the assets used and how they coordinate) and then exports a service for the collaborative task.  An example of a Collaborative Service is a data access service.  Collaborative services are great for minimizing the usage complexity of collaborative tasks, but they are task-specific with limited flexibility.
  • Rendezvous.  With a rendezvous, assets involved in a Collaboration interact with the collaboration manager to synchronize behavior across assets.  An examples of a rendezvous asset would be a queue manager.  A rendezvous asset is perfect for synchronizing complex behaviors.

Conclusion

Scalability requires replication and replication requires isolation.  You can not build a scalable, multi-component, end-to-end system without isolating complexity.   It doesn’t matter if you are using clustering, OSGi bundles, or good-ol-fashioned router load balancing, unless you’ve isolated complexity – both internal and usage complexity – your system will breakdown under high loads (and sometime not so high).

Up Next:  5 Critical Insights for Scaling Apps in the Cloud – Part II (Partition Your App)

 

5 Critical Insights Driving a Winning Mobile Strategy

According to a recent survey of by telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson, 35% of mobile phone owners use apps such as Facebook before they get out of bed in the morning.

Pause a moment and let that sink in.

These are the same people that buy your products, view your ads, work in your offices and lead your departments, and over one-third of them use an app before they even get out of bed in the morning!  

This is the reality of Connected Mobility.  It represents a fundamental change in how we do everything and your consumers, suppliers, employees and competitors are already tapping into this shift.  A winning mobile strategy isn’t a nice-to-have anymore; it’s a necessity.

But what does it take?

At Egen, we use a simple but comprehensive One Page Mobile Strategy plan to guide business and I.T. leaders in the creation of mobile strategies.   Underlying this plan are 5 critical insights driving success…

1.  Define Your Mobile Center-of-Gravity

A strong Mobile Center-of-Gravity is the foundation of every winning mobile strategy.  A lot goes into defining this – and you will have to do your homework – but it’s worth it.

Mobile COG

Mobile Maturity

Your organization’s Mobile Maturity identifies your current mobile capabilities and measures where you are right now and where you want to be against a standard maturity index (0=No Capabilities; 1=Limited or Tactical Mobile Presence; 2=Mobile Enterprise; 3=Consumer-Facing; 4=Customer Intimacy; 5=Strategic & Innovative).  It is a self-assessment, but it creates a clear picture of where you are and where you are heading.

Competitive Landscape

The Competitive Landscape defines where your organization fits into the larger mobile eco-system.  It addresses the current sate of mobility (Industry Snapshot); where things are heading (Mobile Trends); what your competitors are doing (Competitor’s Top 5); and opportunities to fundamentally change how things are done (Potential Game Changers).

Strategic Objectives

Every winning mobile strategy starts with the underlying business objectives and then aligns these objective against specific mobile goals and desired capabilities.  The focus of this center-of-gravity component is to identify the business objectives driving mobile and then define goals and capabilities aligned with these objectives.

Master Business Case

The Master Business Case defines the value of mobility – to the business and to the users – and defines this value in terms of monetary “Table Stakes” ($ value of mobility; target spend; recoup horizons; and 5 year ROI) used to make strategic decisions.

2.  The Right Solution Matters

Native vs Mobile Browser; hybrid or pure-play; how to handle device proliferation; Cloud ready or self-hosted;  performance & scalability… these are some of the critical design drivers for a mobile app – and getting them right is critical.   So how does an organization ensure their mobile strategy drives towards the right solution?

Ask the right questions.

10 Questions Driving Mobile Solutions

  1. Will you be supporting one target device or multiple devices?
  2. Native app or web (or both)?
  3. Self-contained or will the apps have a backend component?
  4. Is the backend self-hosted or CloudSmart?
  5. Standard devices or BYOD?
  6. Device constraints?
  7. Able to function without internet connectivity?
  8. Apps need to scale?
  9. High availability and/or DR?
  10. What are the key app KPIs for success?

3.  It’s All About the UX

An app with a lousy user experience (UX) is worse than no app at all.  There’s nothing worse than building an app that no one uses.  The best way to ensure your organization doesn’t make the same mistakes as these folks is to address the key UX drivers in your mobile strategy. Many of the UX details are app-specific, but several elements span an organization.  As a minimum, your mobile strategy should address the following areas:

  • Purpose.  What’s the driving purpose (or purposes) behind your mobile strategy?  How will these be addressed as part of the UX?
  • Target Audience.  What types of users will your apps target?  How will their needs be addressed in the UX?
  • Context.  How will your apps be used across broad scenarios?  How will this drive the UX?
  • Customer Experience (CX).  What type of CX are you looking for?  How will this drive customer intimacy?
  • Branding.  How will the UX enforce a consistent brand and image across all apps?
  • Design Language.  Will there be a common Design Language defining a consistent UX across devices and apps?
  • UX Design Process.  What is your organization’s process for creating world-class user experiences?
  • Constraints.  Are there any constraints impacting UX design?

4.  Talent Drives Success

When it comes time to execute on a mobile strategy, talented people make all the difference. But the mobile strategy itself needs to identify the type of talent needed – and where to find this talent.    The last thing you want is a budget that doesn’t include the cost of the talent you need.

5.  Don’t Forget Security and Privacy

Mobile devices come with all sorts of interesting features that tend to drive IT departments crazy: cameras, microphones, geo-location, bluetooth, etc.   And then there are the apps themselves – wonderful little nuggets of uncontrolled mayhem downloaded directly from some app store without direct IT department oversight.

Complicating everything are the users themselves.   There may be information we’d like to use, but how do we ensure we protect a user’s privacy?

The mobile strategy must address both of these areas.   Detailed solutions aren’t required, but the strategy needs to identify the Critical Security Concerns all apps must address and the Key Privacy Policies they will support.

Putting Everything Into Perspective

Connected Mobility is changing everything.  If you want to know why a winning strategy is important, just take a look at this.

Up Next: Leveraging Your Web Investment in the Push to Mobile

-Mike
@mobilebizguru

Previous: Welcome to Mobility Insights